The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
Let me explain my favorite book of this year. It quotes Montaigne: "Let us frequent it; let us get used to it." It is death.
Mortality has recently intruded upon my life in an insistent fashion. Turning 71, I realized I do not have forever to live in this time and place. Then, my 96-year-old mother fell and broke her hip, becoming confined to a convalescent hospital. Mortality leaped out once again when I learned that my 42-year life partner has the AIDS virus.
I welcomed The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Soygal Rinpoche (HarperCollins, $24) into my life. Antithetical to the denial of death that's so prevalent in our culture, it says: "To learn how to die is to learn how to live." And: "As a Tibetan saying goes, `Tomorrow or the next life -- which comes first we'll never know.'"
The book perceives life as "a continuing dance of birth and death, a dance of change. ... I hear the sound of impermanence. These changes, these small deaths, are our living links with death."
A program of meditation is offered, translatable into Christian experience. There is discussion of helping the dying, leaving the body, a heart practice, near-death and transformation. The book quotes St. Francis: "For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying stirred and informed me. Reaching into my life from another culture, it is briskly practical and makes a poignant, illuminating spiritual statement.