The Emperor asked the National Teacher, ’After you die, what will you need?’ The National Teacher replied, ’Build me a seamless tomb.’

The Blue Cliff Record, Case 18

Passages seem to be going on around me these days. Talking with a student this week, his dear friend recently succumbed to a heart attack while they were sitting together on a bench in Philadelphia. And Ben, the former water polo player I sat next to at my 40th high school reunion, died unexpectedly in his sleep a week ago. Friends have had strokes and other tough medical diagnosis.

Seamless Tomb.jpg

For the last number of months I have been pondering my own passage. Not in a morbid way, but as a natural segment in the arc of my life. As the years and empty Advil bottles pile up, the question comes up more often. In Paris, in the catacombs there are stacked underground the bones of over six million people, all of whom at one time lived lives long or short, tender or cruel, of greater or lesser social importance. And look what happened to them.

Look, indeed, what will happen to all of us. And what are we to do? What am I to do? The National Teacher, for one, suggests we build ourselves a seamless tomb. What he is saying, in the most tender way, is that our lives and deaths are seamlessly integrated into a whole fabric. What is so bad about that?