Monday, June 29, 2009
Thoughts on Death
I was part of a funeral procession today, and it was one of the stranger things in my life to watch those watching us...
Some individuals slowed down, pulled over and stopped out of respect for the dead. This has always been the tradition that I have known and, at most times, tried to follow. Despite knowing nothing of the deceased, they were willing to halt their lives for a brief moment as the procession passed by. Perhaps they mused upon our common mortality and felt pity upon those grieving in the cars queued behind the hearse. Perhaps they simply sighed in frustration as the short convoy passed by. I don't know what they did, but for some reason I was grateful for their sharing in our mourning.
Others slowed, having seen the hearse too late and, by the time they recognized what was happening, were moving too quickly to adjust their behavior. The same thing happened with several individuals who passed our line of cars with great speed, only to arrive at the front and slow to a crawl to let us pass. I have done this before and always felt very awkward.
A few cars flew by, paying no attention to the hearse. I imagine this happens for many reasons, out of lateness or perhaps unaware of the custom of slowing when a hearse approaches. I can't imagine the myriad of reasons people don't slow down for a hearse, but when one is twenty minutes late for an appointment I can understand the sense of urgency that might compel them to whisper a silent apology as you fly by without slowing.
So what does this tell us about our attitudes towards death? I believe most of us want to keep a healthy distance from it, speeding by at the first mention of it and hoping that it won't catch up to us. We know that death is always near, but hope that avoiding the recognition of its presence will someone allow us to live a joyful life without this haunting reality hanging over us.
Some have no problems with death, out of recognition of its inevitability, acceptance of its coming, or faith in the defeated powerlessness of it. I probably belong in the former catagory, but that doesn't mean I don't long to be in this one.
And so I wrestle. I read the Scriptures, and I join my voice with the father in Mark in proclaiming, "I believe, help my unbelief!" I know the Good News and I remind myself of it every time the subject of death comes up, but I will freely admit that it haunts me, pursuing my thoughts as I flee the very thought, as though my flight will someone convince death to seek out better subjects than I. I continue to pray, to struggle, with my understanding of death and my acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ's complete and total defeat of it, which I have joined in my baptism.