A dear friend of mine’s wife is critically ill in hospital right now. She’s 85. My friend is 82. He and his wife has been married just shy of 50 years. We visited with the both of them only 2 weeks ago. Mary seemed tired and said she was suffering from an infection of some sort. A week later, she had a stroke, followed by another shortly after. As of today, she’s in the hospital, dimly hanging on. Bill knows that she’s dying. He’s preparing himself for that.
When Bill and I spoke, he said to me, “You know, Timothy, when I saw her lying there today, I saw almost 50 years of my life about to disappear. I’ve always been able to look forward to the future, but now at my age, the future isn’t there anymore….all that there is now is today.”
Bill is a retired United Church minister, and Real Estate Agent. In an ardent attempt to cheer him up, I said, “So Bill, perhaps it’s time now to consider yourself a Buddhist!”. He laughed and then asked why. “Because Buddhists only recognize and live in today, in the present moment. They believe that today is all that there is…so congratulations, you have reached Nirvana! The goal of all Buddhist’s! To achieve pure living in the present moment.”
He quickly changed the subject, but before our chat ended thanked me for helping him to feel a little better about things and ended by saying, “So I guess I’ll have to think like a Buddhist now”. This time we both laughed, and I bid him well.
This story is not about what a great guy I am by cheering up my dear friend. Rather, after our conversation it made me think about how religious or philisophical views can influence our lives. Bill, a lifetime devout Christian, has lived most of his life looking forward to tomorrow. And for good reason; Christians have been “looking forward” to the return of Jesus for 2000 years, living each day in hope of his return.
Can you see how this religious-based forward-looking thinking can transfer over into the rest of a persons daily life? Bill has been living in this way for 82 years. Now, with the prospect of losing his wife after almost 50 of those years, and with a fresh stark realization of his own age and mortality, he feels that he has little, if anything left to look forward to. He’s right of course. Yes, being the devout Christian that he is, he can still look forward to the return of Jesus, and if his wife dies, of joining her in Heaven. But, something tells me that Bill doesn’t really feel that way today.
But this essay is also not meant to be a criticism of Christianity. Instead, I’m merely trying to point out how strongly our attitudes and beliefs can affect the outlook of our lives. If Bill were a Buddhist, would he be feeling any different today? I’m going to say “Yes”, but with a hint of trepidation, because it seems that no matter how strong or “valid” a belief might be, in the end the core, or fundamental reality of the human psyche and spirit will most often push the beliefs away leaving only our basic, instinctual feelings to rule; stuff like in Bill’s case, a fear for his survival and loss of hope for tomorrow. His “Faith” may or may not bring him out of that. “May or may not”. Therein lies the true reality, the “Isness” of Bill’s life today and, I suspect, most of the human race, living faintly day by day in this thing that we call “Life”. Indeed, this is it.