Tonight Val and I got to spend some time with Ken Jones, a friend of ours who was also a fellow resident during the nearly four years I lived in the seminary. He is now receiving hospice care in his room, lovingly supported by his wife. When we entered the room, he was arranging a music play list for his memorial service from his hospital bed, his glowing MacBook Pro resting on the over-bed table. Ken has also been blogging about his journey with cancer, and what now seem likely to be his final days with us in this world.
Western writing often treats death in fiction, but rarely have I read the words of an author knowingly in their final stage of life. Yet there is a longstanding tradition in Zen, practiced by monks and samurai alike, of writing death poems. The best of these poems capture the essence of one’s life, turning an aesthetic and philosophical gaze upon the often taboo subject of death. It occurs to me that this is similar to what Ken is doing with his blog.
More than this, spending time with Ken, he seemed to me to have become a living poem. When it began to look more likely that his time here would come to an end, Ken says he asked God to grant him “some extra time to be of service to anyone I can in any way I can.” I was served by Ken’s presence tonight, which seemed to have with it a radiance that I also recall in the final moments we spent with our son.
Ken’s message is simple and profound:
We are here in this material world for a relatively short time for our education and opportunities to be of service to others through our loving. The better we do that, the more fun our lives will be. Having fun is a big key to successful living. If it doesn’t seem like fun at any moment, find a way to make it fun. I guess that’s my message. Have fun with your lives.
Thank you, Ken, for your example, your friendship, your fun. You have indeed been of service to me through your writing and your presence. My love goes out to you and your sweet wife, Carol.