September 22, 2008

A Most Unpleasant Companion

Death....a great Leveler -- a king before whose tremendous majesty shades & differences in littleness cannot be discerned -- an Alp from whose summit all small things are the same size.
- Mark Twain, Letter to Olivia Clemens, 10/15/1871

Surely as the sun rises in the east and summarily sets in the west, so too we are assured that every birth is, at some time, accompanied by a death. It is perplexing that in the ever present company of so familiar a companion we are intensely restless, ill at ease, on edge, if you will. We do our best to dress it up, cover its stench, and blunt its edge; fruitless efforts all.

Death in nice clothing is still death.

Death doused in the fragrance of roses and carnations still reeks of wrongness.

Death called by other, more genteel names ("a passing," "pushing up daisies," "crossed over," "kicked the bucket," "gave up the ghost," etc.), is still that hated and tireless pursuer who must surely catch us all.

Entire industries have sprung up in this frightful specter's wake. Many seek a futile combat with this foe with only one loss (so far) on its record. Others dream dreams of taming this unruly behemoth. It is a tragic comedy to make the Bard greenly envious of its compelling story line. Witness the endless parade of "anti-aging" and "rejuvenating" products. What a desperate deception we foist upon ourselves! These products simply empower the lie we tell ourselves that there is no such thing as the boogey-man, when we know, all too certainly, that this boogey-man is real and it will catch us.

It is truly no respecter of men, for not only will it catch us, it will also catch those we love and those we hate and all those in between. It will catch the old and catch the young. Some with startling suddenness and others with agonizing, even glacial, patience. Some will be caught with stomach wrenching violence while others are captured in a moment of uncanny, almost beautiful, peace. Yet the destination is the same, all are traveling on the same train, and there is no getting off before the final station.

How then shall we come to terms with this dreadful companion? How are we to cope with the certain grief at an uncertain time? Are there possible answers to this impossible circumstance? Dare we hope in the face of such a daunting adversary? Good questions all and I will seek to address some of them over the next few posts.

"Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind, therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee." John Donne - Meditation XVII


Lucy Arin said...

Dare I hope? The long-awaited post on officiating a funeral for a stranger?

John said...

Yes, it's true. Though I'm not one to fret over unfinished business. There's always an engaging distraction to look into along the way. Might as well enjoy the journey, aye?

Ron Appleton said...

It's only a sting when you leave out the comfort and hope of "O Death, where is thy sting?" as taught in Scripture. Why do you bring angst on yourself by quoting the atheist Twain? Divorce yourself from philosophy and rest on Scripture. I say this in love but boy it doesn't sound like it, does it.

John said...


You are soooo right! Stay tuned for further conversation here. This was simply a post to "warm up the crowd." The angst you speak of is something I see in the lives of the people I serve and Twain, atheist though he may be, gets at that thought strongly. At the last it matters not whether you are rich, poor, beautiful, powerful, homeless, or healthy, death is coming.

Please be assured my friend that this shepherd is at rest. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for Thou art with me."

Thanks for the comment!