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HEARTWOOD by Barbara Becker


The Art of Living With the End in Mind

by Barbara Becker

Pub Date: May 11th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-250-09598-5
Publisher: Flatiron Books

A Manhattan-based interfaith minister grapples with the complexities of mortality.

When Becker’s childhood friend Marisa died from cancer at age 40, the author was understandably crushed. However, the event also opened a long-suppressed wellspring of insecurities about death, and Becker’s grieving process became life-altering. She began approaching life more proactively, spiritually, and ecologically. She planted bulbs in a makeshift plot in the city, attended a silent meditation retreat, practiced the Japanese “forest bathing” and “water children” rituals, and made a general promise to herself to “participate more fully in everyday matters.” The author shows how this intensive self-reflection benefited her on many levels, and she hopes to inspire others to participate in their own introspection when encountering life’s myriad challenges. Among other episodes and life events that led her to a more intentional soul-searching journey: a dangerous internship in politically unstable Bangladesh, a miscarriage, her father’s struggles with Alzheimer’s disease, and family losses from Covid-19. In too many instances, she writes, “death had slipped quietly into my home and declared herself my teacher.” But what, she asks, “was I supposed to do with these understandings in the practical, brass-tacks way of a modern woman going about her daily business?” While the book as a whole is inspiring, the most moving passages involve Becker’s time as a hospice volunteer. Though consistently heartbreaking and often frustrating, the author’s experiences were also transformative. She incorporated compassionate Zen Buddhist end-of-life practices into her own humanitarian service vows, and a host of nurturing interpersonal experiences broadened her understanding of how her life could be made more useful in both spiritual and altruistic empathetic service to those in need. Once firmly entrenched in our “death-shy” contemporary culture, the author is now a reassuring advocate for peace and interreligious understanding, and she views dying as an opportunity to seek enlightenment and give thanks, regardless of one’s preferred spiritual path.

A graceful meditation on divine deliverance.