Most of my life I've been searching for What Life is All About.
A poem I wrote when I was thirteen is my earliest recorded pondering about the cosmos, but I'm sure my pre-teen mind also was looking for answer's to life's big questions.
Having come to an age when my first Social Security payment is due to be deposited in our checking account this month, I can report that some fifty years of philosophical, religious, mystical, scientific, and spiritual inquiring has led me to a simple three word conclusion:
This is it.
You're free to disagree. I can understand why you would.
Heck, I've disagreed with me -- the current version -- for most of my life. Believing in an afterlife, reincarnation, eternal soul, and transcendent realms of unchanging supernatural bliss provided me with a lot of satisfaction for many years.
But if you're honest with yourself, as I've tried to be with myself, you'll have to admit that your hope in a life after death is just that: hope. Reality is something different.
Human reality is that we live, and eventually we die. In the past year my sister and brother-in-law have died. I have no close blood relatives who are alive, other than my daughter and granddaughter. One day I'll join the departed, who almost certainly haven't arrived at any other destination.
They're just gone. Because...
This is it.
Those three words say a lot, but also almost nothing. My experience that leads me to speak them is exceedingly different, richer, more profound, and life-altering than what I've emphasized with italics twice now.
I don't know what it is about my evening dog walks. Maybe the universe seems more transparent when I set out with the family pet on a leash for a jaunt through the Oregon countryside because my mind is released from its usual concerns.
Tonight it happened again. On its own. Unbidden. An unspoken message that screamed silently within my consciousness.
This is it.
The mist that shrouded fir trees barely visible in the near-darkness. Serena sniffing her way from one fascinating roadside scent to another. The sound of my LL Bean shoes striking the pavement, beloved yellow shoelaces glinting in the light of a flashlight beam.
At that moment I knew, though I can't prove that what I know is true. So I guess you could call my knowing a variety of faith. However, it is a faith backed up by some pretty damn convincing evidence.
We live. And eventually we die.
What I knew on the dog walk, and still know, is that this moment, whatever it consists of, never will come again.
Standing on the road, leash in hand, I knew that so deeply I was almost afraid to embrace the realization wholeheartedly, because it seemed that if I ever fully fathomed the depths of what I can only call IT, I'd run the risk of never coming to the surface of my everyday life again.
Which could be a good thing. OK, it probably would be a good thing. I just didn't feel like a dog walk was the right time to dive deeper into IT -- the experience that arguably underlies all other experiences.
Namely, the existential in-your-gut realization of life's finitude, ephemeralness, and above all, preciousness.
Never again will I experience what I am right now. This moment will never come again. (A cliche, but cliches can be absolutely true.)
And not only will this particular moment never come again, there will come a time when no moments will. That time is the moment before we die.
When I compare the spiritual and religious dogmas I used to believe in with the realization that came to me on the dog walk (which I have frequently these days, almost always at unexpected moments), I'm struck by how much more real "This is it" is.
That brings a smile.
I have a glimpse of even more: the bliss, peace, and contentment that I used to think would only come from pursuing some sort of other-worldly experience.
Knowing that this world, here and now, is it... what could be more satisfying than that? Dissatisfaction only arises when we feel that what is happening is different from what should be happening.
I could be wrong about death being The End rather than a transition to another chapter of life, of existence. It's unlikely, but possible.
However, that this moment will never come again: virtually 100% certain. Whatever you're doing right now -- and my amazing powers tell me it is reading a blog post -- this is the last time you'll ever have this experience.
Enjoy. That. Strawberry.