The Death Card

If the tarot were to have a trope, it would be the Death card. The thirteenth card of the Trumps, or Majors, of a standard tarot deck, you can find it renamed across the centuries as “rebirth” or in some cases “the card with no name.” All of which is sad because I have always thought of it as a good card.

You see, the somewhat morbid imagery aside, Death could have just as easily been called Ending. Just an event like an opera, a sports match, or a session of making love, has a beginning it must also have an ending like a final aria before the diva dies in a spectacular fashion, or a team scores a winning point seconds before the final buzzer, or orgasms have been successfully toweled off. That even then has ended, so a new one can begin. We are taught, perhaps with a touch of instinct, to recognize when moments of play such as these do in fact conclude.

What we do not equally realize is that other emotional events can also have their own endings. Grief evolves, regret fades, anxiety ebbs, anger subsides. A faraway friend we always assumed we hug again is buried after a brief illness. Over time the initial shock, and our processing of those feelings of the immensity of mortality also change. Our sadness may remain. But in a sense it ends. Whether one ascribes to the theory of the stages of grief, one can recognize in them deep seated events. And it is here that the Death card’s beauty comes into bloom: we need a gentle reminder that we need to allow one stage of grief to end to enter into the next one.

Still mooning over a lover with whom a quarrel, now silly sounding when you try to describe it, ended what seemed like a perfect romance? The Death card reminds us that nostalgia is a trap. Memory is untrustworthy, especially when we build up the good feeling memories and suppress the troublesome ones. Let the regret go, Death tells us. That future was not for you. Allow your future to expand, give it room in your soul.

Death can be practical. Anxiety need not hold you back. You can seek professional guidance with learning how to cope with it, how to wield it, or how to endure it. How to tell it, “Hush, child. I know you are a part of me and I love you but I need to focus on living right now.” Death reminds us that options for growth always exist.

Even bad habits can fall under the patronage of Death. Catch yourself about to have a tantrum because your coworker knows you hate phone calls yet insists on scheduling one with you, especially during your traditional lunch break? But you stopped before throwing office supplies at the door. Death is there to say “well done.” A moment of wrath was transformed into one of self-revelation. You can end the tendency to have a short fuse when you recognize the triggering situations. Death encourages us to be just one percent better today than yesterday when we consciously decide to release ideas, patterns, or systems that harm us at worst or no longer serve us at best.

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” 

–Mark Twain

So let Death help us close the door on deep moments of pleasure and pain so that we can reflect upon then in wisdom and experience and prepare ourselves for the other names that Death could just have easily earned: Beginnings, Change, Transformation.

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