[slide]Our meaning in the face of life’s end can be yield absurdity or spirituality. A friend recently sent me a speech (this excerpted therefrom), I believe thinking that it yielded some form of the former – or at least some meaning outside of the Eternal. After reading the book A Severe Mercy, I disagree. The culmination of life in death creates a need in us for which I believe there is only one solution, and it is the opposite of what face value expects of Death:
I have an absolutely clear memory of being 18 and graduating from Roosevelt High School. I remember that many things made me feel happy, and that I pursued those things with vigor, but I also remember that I dreaded adulthood, and even more, old age and death, and that no matter what I was doing, no matter how good were the good times, somewhere at the bottom—underneath the music and the friends, the late nights and the fun—somewhere at the bottom there was always an awareness that this wasn’t going to last forever, and that I would have to get old like everyone else, which might not be so fun, and that one day, I would die, which wouldn’t be fun, either. Sometimes I would go for long periods without thinking about this, but then it would come to me again, the reality of my aging and death, an awareness of this while I was having so much fun, and the way I dealt with it was by telling myself that old age and death were way off in the future, that I had a lot of time, that I would deal with it later. Or I denied it. I told myself that, somehow, my own aging and death weren’t possible. I remember thinking, in 1974, that the year 2016, when I would turn 60, would somehow never come, that it just couldn’t happen, something would change before that date, and yet now it’s just 3 years away.
Is all of this familiar? Or was I just an inordinately morbid 18 year old? I think the literature I taught when I was a high school English teacher is pretty clear on this, because distress about mortality is there, pervasively, in the poems, plays, novels, and stories human beings have produced—they tell us in no uncertain terms that death is a big problem for a lot of us, and that the reality of our own death makes it very, very hard for us to feel 100% happy 100% of the time, which is how we would like to feel, and how we wish life was. In fact, we’re bothered by the fact that this universe we didn’t invent or choose to live in has to be like this. Why couldn’t it be otherwise? Why isn’t reality better than it is? If there’s a God, how come He or She includes death in His or Her Creation—not to mention suffering and pain, and suffering and pain of such intensity and persistence that it seems impossible that there is indeed a Creator who is all powerful and all good? Because if the Creator of the universe is all powerful and all good, why do bad things not just happen but happen to everybody? And why is it that the ultimate bad thing, our annihilation as individuals, also happens to everybody? What kind of a God creates such a reality? Not one who is all powerful and all good, as far as we, in our limited, human way, construe those terms. Which turns a lot of us into unbelievers, quite naturally. But then what? Now what? We find ourselves afraid of the universe, because it is either the work of a God who seems inexplicable at best and malicious at worst or a place completely indifferent to us, when all we want, as I said before, is to be happy. Why does that have to be so complicated, this happiness we seek? Why does the universe seem to be a place where happiness isn’t possible? We don’t have answers. And so, from day to day we just stumble on through life, aware that it is, in its very nature, unsatisfactory, and experiencing, privately, a sense if dissatisfaction with it, and mostly at a loss regarding what to do about it. In this profoundly confused way, our lives pass, and then they end.
You and everyone you know will die someday. What does that mean about today?