It took three months for my mother to get her final diagnosis of lung cancer. Napier is an asshole.
But in that time, I knew what I had to convey, what I had to bring.
In religion, transcendence refers to the aspect of God’s nature and power which is wholly independent of (and removed from) the material universe.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
If all you see is the material universe, if all you see is the human experience, well, then death is nothing but a terrifying shock. But if there is some bigger context, well, death is just another transition.
More than that, if we see our human experience as just part of our spiritual experience, we will feel empowered to do things that transcend the mundane, that transcend social, human convention.
For most of human history, when life was short and death was omnipresent, this transcendence was taken for granted. It’s why people acted from courage and died, knowing that something bigger awaited them.
We live in a different time now, where life has been extended so much that it is easy to believe that our human life is the point, the only point of existence. We have no context for death, which is why massacres now seem even more futile and crushing, even as they become easier to create with effective mass human killing guns so available, at least in the US.
My mission statement, on the front page of my website since 1997, is
“In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender transgression remind us of our continuous common humanity.”
Anthropologist Anne Bolin
In other words, gender crossing reminds all humans that what defines us is the content of our character, not the colour or shape of or skin. It is our essence that makes us, not our flesh and bones, which makes dividing people very, very silly indeed.
My mother couldn’t cope with loss, so she decided to die. Her death was, in the end, deliberate and wilful. The idea that she could transcend the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to just was beyond her ken. I tell the story of her death as being romantic, but I don’t quite believe it. It feels more like a denial of life, a denial of the possibilities of life. She didn’t think she was moving on, making a transition, saying goodbye to those here, she just wanted out.
The challenge for me is how to claim life again. To claim a mundane and conventional life seems to me to be torture, no matter how much people around me want to deny the idea of transcendence, to deny the affirmation of spirit and play. They want to deny the possibility of transcending beyond convention, beyond the limits of their mundane view, no matter how much that locks them in a world of death and decay, a world where fear always triumphs over love.
“Bah, humbug,” they spit, and end up spitting on me. They can’t embrace my reality, so they dump on it.
Still, what I have to bring, if no longer for my parents, but for myself and the world, is a sense of transcendence, that something counts more than the flesh, that something exists beyond the mundane.