Pessimist that I am, I tend to look at death as tragic, but not so much for the dead person as for those of us left behind. And indeed, the untimely death of a loved one can and often does leave the lives of those left behind in tattered ruins, sometimes irredeemably.
Death is often thought of as a one-time event at the end of our confusing lives. We all know there’s a sand timer dripping out the sands of our days, never letting us know how much sand is left in the top half, and we’ve come up with many explanations for the seeming cruelty of all that is left unexplained as those sands drip through – why do dogs have to die? Why do children die? Why do we die? When do we die? Why can’t we know more? Why can’t we understand more? Why must we ask ‘why?’ despite the lack of answers to that fundamentally human question? Why? whywhywhywhywhywhywhy?
But on the other hand, while we are aware of the dramatic deaths of people taken by disease and tragic accidents, we are surrounded by small daily deaths that aren’t nearly as threatening to us:
We breathe in; we breathe out – a microcosm of life then death.
We wake up…a new day, a new life. We go to sleep…precious sleep, death to the day behind us.
Each step we take gives birth to a new moment, leaving behind the old moment, never to return.
Seasons come to life, slowly, gently killing off the previous season.
We embrace the new opportunities, the new stages of life, tending to look forward more readily than we look backward.
Death is forever all around us, but there’s something gracious, proper, and kind about our daily deaths. How many nights of your life have you lamented having to go to sleep? Are you ever sad to exhale? Worried that there won’t be another breath waiting for you in one moment? We might lament the passing of a beautiful fall or a life-bringing spring, but even summer and winter come with their pool parties and snowball fights – bits of joy in the midst of a season whose death comes eventually as a relief, as a moment of grace.
I don’t claim to know much about the religious stories’ validity. Is there a heaven? What about reincarnation? Or what if we just end up exactly as we were in the year 1743 – entirely unaware, literally non-existent.
I don’t claim to know or, frankly, to have much in the way of belief in these matters. But if I examine the fact that most of the deaths we die are actually not so scary, even pleasant and beautiful – just as beautiful as the precious moments when life needs a pause button. And isn’t it true that our permanent Deaths create the very Grace embedded within the frightfulness of ceasing to exist? Would anyone want to live on forever once their loved ones are lost? Once their health declines past the point of physical pleasure?
In most stories, immortality is a curse, not a blessing. The immortal character grows more and more embittered and estranged from the pleasures of the world but without the relief brought on by death.
Perhaps my argument is a bit circular…Because of the deaths we must inevitably encounter, Death becomes an act of grace. Just as circumcision is a gift to male children who will be surrounded by other circumcised children. Better to commit the horror of slicing off part of a boy’s most sensitive body part days after birth than to risk the rejection and mockery he might face in 12 or 14 years by not doing the slicing. Indeed, death is scary and largely left without satisfying meaning. I can’t pretend this isn’t a large part of Death’s Reality.
But for today, circular though it may be, I feel the need to acknowledge the Grace buried within the bosom of Death.
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