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storytellingA recurring topic at Death Café Corvallis is the legacy.  This may be material inheritance such as money and property, it may be creative inheritance such as a beautiful garden, it may be moral inheritance such as the impact of one’s actions in the world, and it may be communicative inheritance such as the story of your life.

Some people bequeath the story of their lives to their successors by writing memoirs or an autobiography.  Not all of us have time or skill to write a book, but we all have the resources to write our own story.  Writing your story has powerful benefits for your loved ones when you are gone and for your self while you are present.

A valuable guide to writing your story in preparation for your death is Having the Last Say by Alan Gelb.  He provides a practical workflow for developing a single story that conveys meaning from your life.  Gelb describes his process in an interview with thanatologist Gail Rubin – The Consequences of Death.

An interesting element of Gelb’s book is the set of questions that he poses throughout in order to prompt reflection and creativity. Questions such as;

When has my mind and body ever felt in perfect harmony?

If I had to relive moments in my life, which one’s would they be?

If I had to imagine a place in the world that puts me at total peace, what is that place?

Just having these questions is valuable to anyone who thinks about death. They are certainly provocative of personal creativity for addressing a topic that some findmel_blanc_gravestone_505x278 daunting – the story of your own life.

Notably, Gelb emphasizes that the project of value in writing your story is not in order to create a summary or evaluation of your life.  Quite simply you are telling a story about your experience that has significance for you.  That is enough to convey rich meaning for others.  I propose that Gelb’s idea is worth an effort for everyone. Consider the following propositions (mine):

Proposition: we cannot understand what death is unless we understand what life is. 

Corollary: in order to effectively conceptualize our own death, we must accurately conceptualize our own life.

The beauty of Gelb’s approach is that any part of our life experience that has significance for us is sufficient for that conceptualization, in part anyway.

At the least your story will provide content for your survivors as they find need to speak about you and think about you.  At best you may find personal growth through meaning making about that most rare and precious topic – you.



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A recent Death Café Corvallis included discussion of a sports event practiced by the ancient Mayans and other Mesoamericans at least as early as 1500 BCE.

This was a team sport in which the objective was to get a ball through the hole of a vertical stone ring without using hands or feet.


Pok-ta-pok Court at Chitzen Itza

The game has numerous names including pok-ta-pok, pitz, and the version still played today – ulama.

A notable aspect of pok-ta-pok is that some ritual matches ended with one of the teams being sacrificed – beheaded, burnt, or both.

Whether it was the winning team or losing team that was sacrificed is a matter of debate, though the majority of Mesoamerican scholars maintain that death was the cost of defeat.

Tepantitla_mural,_Ballplayer_B_CroppedPok-ta-pok is prominently featured in the Mayan Popol Vuh, an epic tale that includes a creation story and descent into the underworld. This is a great myth which I highly recommend.

The Hero Twins, Hunahpú and Xbalanqué, brave horrors of the underworld in order to resurrect their father, which they accomplish by winning a pok-ta-pok tournament played with his skull.

Pok-ta-pok was a violent game in which players sometimes died from injury during the match.

1024px-Maya_Vase_BallplayerThe game resembles a combination of soccer, basketball, hacky sack, and jai alai.

A modern depiction of pok-ta-pok at least in the spirit of its violence is the 1975 film Rollerball in which a global totalitarian corporate government has replace war with an ultra-violent sport, which resembles pok-ta-pok is several respects.

A version of the game, ulama, is played today in Mexico and throughout the Americas – minus the stone ring and sacrifices.

Jon facilitates Death Cafe Corvallis which is open to all and meets weekly in Corvallis Oregon.

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