What really matters
Buddhists are taught to meditate on their own deaths — to visualize the end, and reflect on its inevitability. Reminding yourself of your mortality isn't a morbid exercise; it serves as a spiritual face slap, meant to heighten your appreciation of the current moment, to put small worries and irritations in perspective, to wake you to the reality that our time here is limited. The coronavirus pandemic is not a drill; it has brought great suffering and death to humanity. But if we are to extract any value or meaning from this scourge, it must be in the clarity it can provide about what really matters.
Hiding out from the virus at home is terribly frustrating. Still, I've noticed a greater sweetness in everything not denied me. My love and appreciation for my cellmates, my wife, Karla, and my dog, Teddy, have been enhanced despite the 24/7 togetherness. Our grown daughters' texts and phone calls are even more precious than before, bringing little heartbursts of relief and affection. Fondness floods me when I see friends' and co-workers' faces on Zoom. Food — even the third-day leftovers — is more delicious now that I acquire it at some risk, without any certainty it will be there tomorrow. The buds, blossoms, and birdsong of spring are more thrilling this year, their promise of renewal more desperately needed. The other day, as I was bicycling to get some air and light (and slow my inevitable decay), I found that every runner and cyclist I passed gave a cheery wave rich in fellow feeling. One woman jogger smiled at me, a stranger, with such genuine warmth I was startled. "Hi!" she called out as I rolled by, in recognition of our shared predicament: escaped prisoners trying to wring some joy from a spring day. How can we feel gratitude at this dark time, amid a planet-wide crisis unlike any in our lifetimes? How can we not? Nothing, we've been reminded, is guaranteed. Nothing should be taken for granted.