It seems a shame that a life has to end. Why did God invent death? Why can’t we just go on living forever?
A lot of people think we do. They’re wrong. Death is the end. (The Bible even says this. “To dust we shall return…”)
But that doesn’t preclude the possibility that death is also the beginning. Either way, it’s something to ponder, not something to answer.
If you’ve lost someone, the seemingly innate response is to act like they’ve gone somewhere else, someWHERE. This isn’t based on hard fact or faith – but on instinct. It’s also worth saying that it isn’t based on superstition, for superstition is defined as “a credulous belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge”. In fact, innate statements of continued life in a deceased love one are based on some kind of strange reason – “if so and so isn’t here any more, then they must be somewhere else”.
This assumes that “personhood” is something that lasts, something that continues beyond someone’s mortality. And indeed it is – you can think of a person, you can see the effect of their actions, and you can yearn for their presence – still mysteriously and paradoxically eluding and lingering around you – long after they’re gone.
The brute fact of death is neither here nor there, and I am every moment more convinced that it is dying more than death that is the difficulty. Everyone dies. But not everyone dies well.
How does one die truthfully and well? (If I were able, I would quote the entire last chapter of Richard Holloway’s Looking In The Distance, but I’ll have to stick with my own thoughts.)
There are examples all around us. Some of us die in love, some in faith, and some even in laughter – God, we hope this forourselves.
But we die in the place we lived – this earth. Our earthly lives are not made up of paradisiacal perfections, but of graspings for an infinite surface to rest our cold, lonely heads on when the day arrives. (“Every living creature on this earth dies alone”, says Grandma Death in the film Donnie Darko.)
Perhaps the only noble and holy death is a martyr’s, a giving at the last. But these are particularly hard to choreograph, and even harder must the will of the survivors be to testify readily and persistently, not least in both turbulent and apolitical moments.
In total, our lives must find a somewhere, a someplace, a someone to try to share these moments with. Usually, these are circumstantial, but it is just that opponent measure of choice and free will that makes finding our home all the more intriguing.