Friday, February 26, 2010

Spoiler Alert: We All Die in the End

In a few days, it will be the twelfth anniversary of my dad's death. I have experienced my share of death in my day between my aunts and uncles, friends and acquaintances. Death is one of those subjects that is fascinating to me as I observe it in the North American context. I mean, I guess some of these observations may apply to the rest of the world, but I have not been to the rest of the world, so I feel I should qualify it.

The first is the curious reaction of Christians to death. In particular, reaction to other Christian's deaths. It seems as though when people mourn, it is expressed in such a way that seems like it is a permanent separation. That once a person dies, you will never find that person again, because I suppose they believe heaven's probably going to be some sort of ginormous city with one of the worst transit systems in the metaphysical realm. It is such a solemn time. I get that you want to respect some one who has died (I really try avoid those gussied up terms like "passing on" or "crossed over" or what have you. Unless I'm talking to someone in mourning, then I use them so I won't be a dink). But it seems like it should be a time to reflect on who that person was and what they brought to the experience of the community. What could you learn from their life? And not just the positive things. The negative things, too. This was a person and you can learn from their story just like we can learn from anyone's story. I like the idea of an Irish wake. One where you sit around and tell stories about the person. It's not so focused on what is missing, but instead what was had.

Death is something that people tend to forget as a part of our journey. That it is an inevitability that all must experience. Noticed how I avoided terms like "face" or "endure" or "conquer". Death is not our enemy. Death is not even an entity. It is the conclusion to a story and that is all. It is like the last piece of the puzzle that gets put into place.

The other weird thing about death in North America is how it highlights how vapid and self-centered people are and how much people actually do not respect life and other living beings. I am specifically thinking of what happened in the wake of Michael Jackson's death. Before his death, he was the favourite target of most comedians, late night show hosts, and even jokes amongst the buddies. People laughed at his choices, his struggles, his pain and his identity. They harassed him and disrespected him to be beneath themselves. The strange thing is, he dies and suddenly he was everyone's inspiration and a cultural hero. Where was that when he was alive?

Suddenly, it was fashionable to buy his old music and to say how you loved his music. But while he was alive it was perfectly fine to make fun of his struggles and problems and pain. That's fair game.

If you are always teasing or making fun of the one you claim to respect, but never say anything encouraging, did you ever really respect them? I see it all the time when couples or friends tease each other, but they never seem to balance it off with something positive. If all you hear is negativity (even in jest because you actually do like them) then it is bound to rub off on you.

Death is treated with such misunderstanding in our culture that it actually hinders some peoples' lives. They avoid adventure and risk or they only see a ticking clock and thus they need to push as much happiness and pleasure in as possible. They don't have time to grow, they're running out of time! I need money and success now! What is a life without everything I want? 'Cause death is a comin' and I'm looting this place as much as I can before I get out of here and I don't care how many old people and children I have to trample to get out. They will take away the lives of others to preserve their own. It's such a strange road we walk and such strange people we walk with.

I try to approach each death that comes across in my life and try to use it as an opportunity to learn about life. When dad died, I learned how much I had structured my life and goals around him and how I needed to be careful in my own decisions, because time can slip away on you. I learned from the deaths of past acquaintances, how important it is to be living your life and not wasting it. Death is not the tragedy, but living a long, hollow life is.

I don't want to say that we should live recklessly because death doesn't mean anything, but rather coming to the understanding that is a necessity. What is worse? A story that comes to a conclusion or a story that never ends? Some people fear death because they do not want to face punishment and pain. I am afraid of death because I may go living forever.

I know so many Christians who cannot stand the tough times in life and so they are so heaven-focused that they lose their footing on earth. They cannot wait to get to heaven and live in peace and unending joy. They forgot that Jesus taught us to pray, "Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven". We're supposed to be living in peace and unending joy here. And you can do that. It's an attitude, not an environment.

I, on the other hand, am afraid of forever. From my limited human perspective, I cannot conceive of anything that would be good forever. I mean, yes God is good and He has been and will be good forever, but I see no point in existing forever as a human. Even if God was to open my mind and allow me to become infinitely wise and intelligent, then He is tinkering with what He made in a way similar to how George Lucas tinkered with the Star Wars movies and turned them into something they weren't by trying to make it better. However, I will submit that He may very well have something that I cannot possible imagine and I will be eating crow when I get to heaven. Crow I will very happily eat I'm sure. But if it turns out that the best ending is that I come to the end of my life and get to lie in my grave until I turn into dust, I will be content because I have already lived the best I could.

"Oh, and if I die
Before my time
Oh, sweet sister of mine
Please don't regret me if I die

Bartender, please
Fill my glass for me
With the wine you gave Jesus that set him free
After three days in the ground."
- "Bartender" by the Dave Matthews Band from their album Busted Stuff


Jamie Isfeld said...

I learned something about you I didn't know before. Thank you very, very much for writing about this and sharing your feelings.

The two-month-iversary of my aunt's death is tomorrow. It's good to read someone else's perspective on death, especially someone who has such a dramatically different approach but comes to the same conclusion.

All you can do is help as many people as you can. In the end, no one will know every person you helped, or everything you did to help... but it made such a difference all the same, and that's the best way to approach your life right before death.

matt said...

Yes, that's very true, we are so scared of death that we struggle to truly live.