Saturday, October 3, 2015

Terminal

"Death is to be warded off by exercise, by healthy habits, by medical advances. What cannot be halted can be delayed, and what cannot forever be delayed can be denied. But all our progress and all our protest notwithstanding, the mortality rate holds steady at 100 percent."[1]
In a culture that speaks little about death, in a society where it is more and more common to have no funeral or memorial service, we still cannot hide the fact that death is inevitable. I have had friends that died at 58, I have friends that are alive at 96. We all know that one day we must leave this place. We await the mystery of death.

Richard John Neuhaus (May 14, 1936 – January 8, 2009) wrote an essay which was published in February of 2000. In this essay he considers his attitude toward death after nearly dying in 1993. It is a marvelous essay and I encourage you to read it here.

Following two surgeries to repair the damage caused by a large tumor that had ruptured his colon, the surgeon told Neuhaus, “It was as though you had been hit twice by a Mack truck going sixty miles an hour. I didn’t think you’d survive.” As he began to recover and regain enough strength to walk around the block, he recounts some of his feelings as he realized we are all “born toward dying.”
"Shuffling around the block and then, later, around several blocks, I was tired of [New York]. Death was everywhere. The children at the playground at 19th Street and Second Avenue I saw as corpses covered with putrefying skin. The bright young model prancing up Park Avenue with her portfolio under her arm and dreaming of the success she is to be, doesn’t she know she’s going to die, that she’s already dying? I wanted to cry out to everybody and everything, “Don’t you know what’s happening?” But I didn’t. Let them be in their innocence and ignorance."
Neuhaus knew that we are all dying. From the moment we are born, we struggle against it, but we are all dying.

Jon Foreman, in a song from the EP Wonderlands, reminds us that we are all “Terminal.” We’re fatally flawed and we must not “let our spirit die before our body does.”

Terminal
(words and music by Jon Foreman)

The doctor says I’m dying
I die a little every day
He’s got no prescription
That could take my death away
The doctor says, "It don’t look so good"
It’s terminal

Some folks die in offices
One day at a time
They could live a hundred years
But their soul’s already died
Don’t let your spirit die before your body does
We’re terminal, we’re terminal, we're terminal

We are, we are the living souls
With terminal hearts, terminal parts
Flickering like candles, shimmering like candles
We're fatally flawed, fatally flawed

Whenever I start cursing
At the traffic or the phone
I remind myself that we have all got
Cancer in our bones
Don’t yell at the dead
Show a little respect
It’s terminal, it's terminal

We are, we are the living souls
With terminal hearts, terminal parts
Flickering like candles, flickering like candles
We're fatally flawed, we're fatally flawed

We are, we are the living souls
With terminal hearts, terminal parts
Flickering like candles, flickering like candles
We're fatally flawed, we're fatally flawed

“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust
For our days here are like grass
We flourish like a flower of the field
The wind blows and it is gone
And its place remembers it no more
Naked we came from our mother’s womb
And naked we will depart
For we bring nothing into the world
And we can take nothing away”

We are, we are, we are, we are, we are the living souls
With terminal hearts, terminal parts
Flickering like candles, flickering like candles
We're fatally flawed, in the image of God.

Of course, both Neuhaus and Foreman are right: we are terminal. I hope that doesn’t come as a shock to you. Some of us have been fortunate to live many good years on this earth. We know all too many who have died before their time. But, what is before their time? What is before my time? Does anyone know how many days he or she has been given on this earth? “Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone - as though we had never been here” (Psalm 103:15, 16). Oh, God, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12) for we are fatally flawed, in the image of God. We’re terminal.


[1] “Born Toward Dying,” Richard John Neuhaus, First Things, 2009 and 2000, http://www.firstthings.com/article/2000/02/born-toward-dying

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