Manifesto for Things Ending Well: ten theses
I am starting the American Death Party as a way to bring things ending well into the conversation so that endings may feed the larger life of our communities, nation and world. Here are my suggestions:
1. Give up your entitlement to live. Someone once said something about putting away childish things… Death can help you with this…really seeing death, not just intellectually conceptualizing it. There is an old dead sycamore outside the building where I live. Dozens of black vultures sit in this tree. They eat the dead all day long. I thank them for their work. One day I will be their food. Few things will shift our culture as powerfully as people showing up for a day that they are blessed to experience and not entitled to experience.
2. Start projects that you will not finish in your lifetime and enroll others in joining you. I remember looking at a stone stairway in Copan, Honduras. The Mayans had built it over generations. So what if you only carve one stone stair tread in your life? Give up the idea that the big work of caring for Life ends with your death. Dream up and begin wild projects that your ancestors and community will be honored to carry. Envision how your death will feed these projects. Let ‘being carried by your village’ be your ‘bucket list.’
3. Dismantle your moral worldview. Quit making death bad. Death needs a seat at the banquet hall because without death there will be no food on the table. (Yes, even your salad had to die.) There is no ‘death vs. life.’ How have we collapsed the mystery of this experience into these two purportedly opposing forces? The closest I can come to a ‘this vs. that’ would be to say that there is ‘that which is willing to feed the larger life’ and ‘that which refuses to feed the larger life.’ Look for the subtleties of moralizing in your language. Where do your declarations of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ allow you to avoid responsibility? Trade in your moral judgement for being responsible. Grieve as a way of being responsible. Grieve as a way of acknowledging all that has died so that you can be here. Don’t collapse all the death that makes your life possible into ‘bad’ or cheap guilt. Tell stories about how you are carrying all the gifts that have been given to you by all that has fed you.
4. Quit looking for a better time and a better life. Be frugal. The etymology of ‘frugal’ means enjoying the fruit. If you are always looking for the better life, you will not enjoy the fruit of what you have. Realize that most of advertising and politics is based on getting you to look for a better life. The advertisers and politicians know your deepest fears. Get to know your deepest fears at least as well as the advertisers and politicians know them. Invite those fears to the table and have dinner with them. Yes, literally set the table with a place setting for each of your biggest fears. Serve them a home-cooked meal. Tell them, out loud, about the fruits and gifts of your life.
5. Extend your attention span. Watch some ants. Watch some stones. Look far forward into to the trail your ancestors have taken. Look far back into the eyes of those who follow in this caravan. Make time more spacious and less factory bell and punch-clock. Be the change you wish your ancestors to see in 10,000 years.
6. Tell your stories of things ending well. Make them into art. Make them into songs. Make them into poetry. Pack them a lunch, get them a passport, and send them out into the world. Yes, they will have to continually shake off the Hallmark sentimentalism and shallow religiosity that people will try to cover them in. They can do it. Yes, they will have to compete with click-bait collapsed advertisement-weary attention spans. They can do it. Tell stories of ways of being ending…like how you met someone with a completely different worldview who allowed your collapsed understanding of them to die. Make up stories about how our nation will become a nation of ‘justice for all’ including the more-than-human-all and how this will be afforded by the death of the current empire. Maybe it is a love story about the empire falling in love with a new world that only his death can bring forth.
7. Create, maintain and feed spaces for real listening. Hermes is the god of communication and thievery. He is the god of boundaries. Spaces of listening need boundaries much more sturdy than the three seconds it takes to check you smartphone. Build a Viking longhouse in your backyard and invite people over to sit around the fire. Build fires to sit around. Don’t let Hermes steal your ability to be in a held space. If you don’t cultivate spaces that hold, there will be nowhere to die into.
8. Belong to a place. Give your place a name and refer to yourself with that name. Say: “I am Andrew of the Old Tomato Factory.” Say: “I am Ann of Green Acres.” Say you belong to a river or a grove of shagbark hickories or a community of black vultures. Bury your dead ancestors in your place even if you don’t have ashes. Get some ashes from somewhere and bury those. Bake a loaf of bread from your great grandmother’s recipe and bury that loaf in the backyard. Bury your father’s baseball glove. Notice how well the radishes grow where you planted that body of ancestry. Imagine how your death will feed this place you belong to. Tell your community about this.
9. Demand that the real cost of things be acknowledged. This does not mean simply that you know how much you will pay for your Iphone over your two year contract. What about the river in China that no longer has fish in it due to the pollution of electronics manufacturing? Hold politicians and planners accountable for what is dying so that we might have a new convenience. Hold yourself accountable. Don’t allow this cost to be collapsed into a monetary figure. Ask “Who or what has died to bring this to me?” Be aware of how our suffering is exported. What do we lose in this process? Proceed with conscious grief.
10. Invite radical joy. This is a party after all. Once you give up defending against ending, there is an immense amount of energy available to appreciate being…shaking your body, serenading the full moon, savoring the pawpaw and wood-fired pizza, talking to the guy on the corner about lawn mower repair…
These ten points are yoga for the community body…the body of politic. May they feed the real wealth of your experience. May they invite our communal and individual endings to dance with and feed beginnings.