For all of the disagreements in the world there would seem to be one point of total unanimity; Death is not cool. Regardless of culture, color, class, career, or coiffeur everybody is agreed that Death is never a welcome visitor. Indeed, no small amount of time is devoted to pretending that death does not exist. In the United States, for example, few people actually die. They pass on, go to the other side, take the big trip – but dying is not part of the equation. And when pretense outlives its usefulness and death shows up, despite all of our best efforts – this appearance comes as a surprise, something we might never have anticipated. Definitely shocking!
How odd! Of all the happenings in life, only one is absolutely certain. From the moment of our birth – it is 100% definite: We will die. So where is the surprise? How come the shock? I rather suspect that the shock we experience is a self inflicted wound. I know that might sound strange or sick, but consider the following. We make every effort to push the reality of death into the farthest corners of our experience. But the truth of the matter is that death is not something that occurs only once in our lifetime, to be forestalled for as long as possible – it is in fact the constant partner of life and indeed an essential element of being alive – with the emphasis on being. No death / No life / No Being – or certainly no Human Being.
Being human is a journey not a destination. We experience the beginning as an entry out of the womb and into the world. The journey continues in and out of childhood, adolescence, adulthood – early, middle and late. Being human is a continuing secession of beginnings and endings. Stopping along the way is not generally recommended – and if we never had the endings, we would never know the beginnings. Duh! And death is just another word for ending.
Some might say that death is a special form of ending – like the last, biggest and best. Terminal, so to speak. But the truth of the matter is that all endings are terminal. That is what it means to end! And ending happens all the time. For example our human journey is marked by many choices. And every choice marks the beginning of something and the ending of something else. I choose to go to Chicago – and thereby I close the possibilities (end) of going to New York. I am just as dead to the possibilities of New York in that moment of time had a truck run over me. Ended!
If we look honestly and closely at this thing we call being human it is actually a continuing dance of life and death. At the cellular level, the physiologists tell us that all our cells are replaced (end, die) every 7 years. That of course is just an educated guess and some hardy cells might make it for eight years – but sooner or later they all die, only to be replaced by new cells. And the point is simply this – were we to eliminate the death, we would do the same to life. Life and death are the essential steps in the dance of being human at the cellular level.
I rather think that Death has a bad rap. It may well be impossible to redeem the word, but if we make a translation so as to retain the sense and eliminate the baggage, perhaps you will agree. Words like ending, closure, termination, completion come to mind. Who amongst us has not breathed a sigh of relief at a point of completion? Even with experiences that were totally pleasant there comes a moment when you just have to put it down. It’s over. And should we be invited to revisit that experience it is not unlikely that we will say, "Been there, done that!" Chapter closed. New one opening. Journey continues.
But what about that final ending – the one where the next chapter is far from obvious? That could be a problem, I suppose, if we chose to make it one. Some people seek resolution through belief in the resurrection, whatever that might mean. For myself, I am happy to be surprised. At the very least I anticipate the solid comfort of a truly deep sleep at the end of a day full of endings and new beginnings. And if there is more. . .
That’s what being fully human is all about.
Dying every day – and loving it!