On Thursday evening last week, I got out my shoeshine kit and began polishing these shoes to wear on Friday and Saturday.
I realized the last time I wore these shoes I also polished them the night before the day I would need to wear them.
Both times, then and now, were for funerals. The former, a sudden and unexpected death of a friend I’d met through Tumblr. The latter, the passing of my grandfather on my mother’s side.
I thought, briefly, “I wish I were wearing these shoes for a different reason.”
But I then thought about how silly of a thing that was to wish for.
What I really wished was for my grandfather to be alive, getting up the next day and leaving the hospital to enter into physical rehabilitation like he was scheduled to do.
I wish I had been able to take an earlier train that Sunday night out of the city to be there with my family during his final hours. I wish I had known earlier in the morning that his condition was rapidly deteriorating and I could have gone home with my father, who had visited earlier that day to help me build a new computer desk.
I wish my mother didn’t have that look of sadness on her face when I walked into my grandfather’s hospital room, exhausted and drained from watching him pass away.
I wish my grandmother wouldn’t have to be alone in that home she and her husband shared together, watching Cubs games and entertaining family during the holidays.
These were the real reasons why I wished I did not have to polish my shoes again.
Grandpa had a Buddhist memorial service and funeral, and one key phrase spoken by the priest caught my attention and has been something I’ve focused on for the past few days:
“The cause of death is birth.”
I don’t practice a religion or worship a god — let alone pretend to be a scholar of these things — but that was a good, calming idea to be introduced to during the ceremony.
No matter what we do, all things end. Polishing your shoes won’t keep them from wearing out over time. All sorts of medical treatment won’t prevent you from eventually passing away.
But this is liberating in a way, too. Just by being alive you are given an opportunity to add value to your existence. You can learn, create and love until the very end.
It’s worth wishing for that, too, I think.