After my grandmother passed last May, I had her piano shipped 600 miles from Indiana to New Jersey. I remember sitting at that piano during the summers I spent taking care of her in college, practicing simple Bach concertos from my beginners’ class. I remember my grandfather teaching me how to play “Heart and Soul” before he passed more than a decade earlier. I remember my sister and I lying underneath it as children, playing games and making up stories while the grown ups chatted in the kitchen.
It sits in my living room now, and in quiet moments when I press my fingers to the keys, I am transported. Is it part of our nature as human beings to imbue the physical with the intangible? They are things, after all, the things that you “can’t take with you.” Death always seems to bring questions. It is a lightning bolt whose shocks force us to face our own mortality and seek clarity.
A Second Birth
Many cultures and religions believe in an afterlife. My grandmother, a devout Catholic, certainly did. I do too. As a Unificationist, I grew up with the understanding that a funeral should be a celebration because it is a passing into a new life, our second birth. The Seonghwa ceremony of the Unification Church, marks the ascension from this life to the next. As Father Moon said, “Death is the moment you can welcome the joy you feel by being able to leave the realm of limited love and enter the realm of infinite love. Therefore, the moment of death is the moment of your second birth” (Cheon Seong Gyeong, 584).
I cherish this understanding. It is a comfort. Yet, after experiencing significant loss this past year, I’ve come to realize that belief in an afterlife does not spare you from grief. We might know that our loved ones are in a better place, we might even experience their presence through dreams or other spiritual phenomena, but it doesn’t keep us from missing them here on earth. Faith does not make us immune to grief. It is a process we all need to go through, and an intensely personal journey. However deep our understanding is of an infinite world beyond this one, here and now, we exist in the physical world.
We are the Unity of Body and Soul
We all know that our physical lives are temporary, we may even have a sense that this temporal nature is what gives it meaning. The finality makes it precious. The Divine Principle tells us that our earthly life is special for another reason. It is where we prepare for our eternal life in the “realm of infinite love.” Just as we are nourished before birth in our mother’s womb in order to prepare for life on earth, our earthly life is the time we grow and develop the things we need in order to live in the spirit world.
We are spiritual beings who have the profound privilege to live a physical life, however briefly. Our physical experiences and interactions nurture and feed our spirit. Though we may not be aware of it, everything we hear, see, touch, we are also experiencing through our spiritual senses.
Perhaps the reason we attach ourselves to objects that our loved ones touched, is because we are used to this physical sensory connection. Why does an ordinary coffee cup, dress, or photo suddenly become irreplaceable? We need to hold something, see someone, smell their perfume. Our affections become imprinted on things because they help us access something we can no longer hold in our hands—the love, the memories, the connection. Yet, it is those intangible things, not the objects themselves, that we are truly seeking.
I had a conversation with a friend who also lost a close family member this year. Their words struck me: “The relationship isn’t over; it’s just different.” If we believe that death is not an end but an ascension, then we need to find new ways to communicate, relate, and build a new kind of relationship, one that leans on our spiritual senses instead of just our physical ones.
As human beings, we are meant to be the gateway, the harmony between the world of the body and the soul. As Father Moon so poetically put it, “We are born to beat in rhythm with this vast universe. Ocean waves lapping against the shore lap against our hearts as well. Gentle breezes sighing serenely lull our hearts into serenity. Flowers in bloom release rich fragrances and stir the fragrances in our hearts.” (548)
Tomb of Love
So what do we do with this privilege of life? Faith helps us to not fear death, knowing that there is a life beyond this one, but what does it say about those left behind? It is harder for those of us left in the physical world, grappling with grief and desperately seeking connection. I’m no expert, but I do believe that grief can teach us lessons. Perhaps the most important one, to clarify how we want to live our lives, and how we want to be remembered. When our bodies pass away, we put up tombstones, a physical remembrance, but Father Moon reminds us, “Let us leave a tomb of love behind!” (Cheon Seong Gyeong, 591).
If our earthly life is preparation for our spiritual one, then what are we meant to practice here? As Father Moon has already told us, it can only be love.
“What value comes from loving an individual, a family and a tribe? It creates a textbook for loving all humankind. It is a textbook for loving everybody in the spirit world that transcends time and space.” (566)
It is our day to day actions, our relationships, all the seeds of love we sow, that will allow us to transition to that new life ready to breathe the air of love. We take it with us, but we also leave it behind.
When I sit down at my grandmother’s piano, it’s not the original ivory keys or the grain of the wood that touches me. It’s the gateway to her presence, the love that was left behind. Not in the piano, but within my soul.