Death is on my mind a good deal lately. As part of a course I am taking, I have an assignment to plan the end of my life. I’m tasked with completing a healthcare proxy and living will so my medical treatment preferences are clear if/when I cannot make decisions for myself. I’m also tasked with writing up my wishes for my body and memorial after I die. The day I sit down to work on these assignments, one of my cats, who was fine the day before, dies. Attending to his natural death, trying to perceive and respond to how he wishes to die, and making decisions about care for and disposition of his body unexpectedly supports me – through my sadness and tears – to clarify what I envision for my own final days living on earth.
Perhaps you’re thinking: “Why is she writing about death? It’s finally spring! This is not a time for dwelling on endings. We’re in a season of new beginnings!” Fair enough, I’m with you. I can find something to appreciate about every season, but for this time of year I’d readily use the word “delight”. When I walk around my garden to see what’s poking up from the soft, damp earth and gaze at blossoms both vibrant and delicate, I’m taken back to the feeling of being a child engaged in the same activity, running along a well worn path around the edge of our yard.
Here’s the thing, though. Death and renewal are connected. I recently read the 40th anniversary edition of Transitions: Making Sense Of Life’s Changes by William Bridges. Bridges draws a distinction between change, a situation that happens to us, and transition, an internal process of reorientation and redefinition needed to incorporate change. He writes that: “Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the [anticipated] change…doesn’t take.” Every transition, according to Bridges, starts with an ending where we let go of the familiar before moving into an uncomfortable, uncertain and perhaps frustratingly quiet neutral zone. In the neutral zone, new beginnings may be germinating, but aren’t yet visible. Renewed energy and purpose grow in the fertile soil of the neutral zone, readying us for a truly new beginning. The neutral zone of winter follows the dying of fall. And only then comes the rebirth of spring.
“Endings and beginnings, with emptiness and germination in between. That basic shape is so essential to growth that we must learn to recognize it in our lives,” Bridges writes. “The true essence of life lies in transition, where hope and creativity, insight and possibility reside. Transition is at the heart of revitalization and transformation. Renewal occurs whenever we relinquish something we were attached to and follow life’s invitation toward new energy and a fresh purpose.”
Perhaps part of the invitation of spring is to consider: what it is time to let go of? Can you see leaves still clinging to one of your inner trees that need to fall to the ground so new buds can form? Are there spaces inside you that need to lie fallow longer, nourished with patience until the life underneath is ready to emerge?
Alongside these personal questions, what can we be asking ourselves about our collective lives? We at GWI are grateful to have the grounded understanding the Just Transition framework provides to see and name what we’re rejecting, what we’re embracing, and ways of moving toward that. We pose questions in GWI workshops that link our individual lives with the collective transition we are striving toward, like:
- Whether you work as a plumber, banker, parent, organizer, cashier, farmer, volunteer, architect, teacher or artist – how might you weave Just Transition principles into your Good Work?
- How might we turn away from (or in the words of Bridges, let go of) systems of oppression, domination, and extraction and orient toward ways of working that create the conditions for a regenerative, just, and life-affirming economy?
Join us in contemplating generative questions about personal and collective transition as we embrace the potential for renewal this spring.