I have actually started thinking lately that life is more about dying than it is living. I know. . .I know. . .our culture disagrees. “Just do it” echoes from the top of a commercial mountain top and carpe diem isn’t just the thematic intent of poets and artists. It seems that if you are not sucking deeply from the marrow of life or mentally capturing every moment, you are allowing the dusky twilight of death to shade your perspective. We are saturated each day with a barrage of media images of athletes sweating colors out of their pores and soldiers climbing mountains to grasp the shiny sword of courage. We can’t get enough of life, and we can’t avoid death hard enough. Turn around when you see it. Ignore that marker in the cemetery. Pop that pill before you get on that airplane. Find something to distract yourself when you see death in a friend’s eyes. It is just too disturbing. . .too inconvenient. We got too much living to do. Like Andy tells Red in The Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living or get busy dying.” As if life were really about that choice.
Now, I am not a big advocate of eliminating the color of hope from a successful perspective on life. In fact I like hope. I’m a big fan. However, I am merely suggesting that it is the taste of death that brings out the full flavor of a life well-lived. Ignoring it. . .shrinking from the tiny deaths we are all faced with periodically is nothing but the systematic betrayal of a process our hearts need to really embrace the essential beauty in life.
I am barren. One day, my doctor told me my body was young, but my eggs were old. Expiration date, anyone? Nope. Missed the cut off and didn’t even know there was one. So for a few years of my life, I was simply stuck with an empty womb and the stench of death. How can nothing feel like a loss? Well, I can’t answer that philosophically, but you can just take my word for it. To put it in more eloquent terms: it sucked. I didn’t endure this death with all of my dignity intact, either. I flailed my arms; I broke into tears in the soup aisle of the grocery store; I acted like a fool in front of people I love; I checked out on my responsibilities, all because I ”deserved” too. And I did like we all do when death knocks on our door, I questioned the very One who has conquered it. “Why make this my cross to bear?” I ask. “For what purpose does this dream end?” And even as time began to work its magic in my heart, I found myself emerging from the valley of death just in time to see the imprint of life before me. The plan had always been there veiled from my view, but now depicted in deep cuts of color I had never seen before. My eyes were opened to the vibrant shades of possibility that did not exist in my own pre-death color wheel. . .the face of my child somewhere across a continent or two waiting for my husband and I to show up shone brightly next to the muted hues of broken wombs and failed pregnancy tests. And every day I felt a love strengthening from a man who was more than willing to express his devotion to me in brokenness, while at the same time putting to death his own dreams for a passel of tow-headed children. This was a color of love I had no idea even existed. You tell me? How would I have ever experienced the sweet had I not tasted the bitter? Would I have been simply satisfied with the white gown and the words without ever feeling love lived out in despair? Would I have been content to swaddle my biological baby if I could have seen my son’s bright eyes shining a world away? I don’t know if I would have had any answers if those questions had not been posed for me.
My non-genetic sister, Mary, coined this phrase years ago when we were living in post college semi-poverty: “God is trying to kill me.” We would laugh and say, “As if God ever tries anything.” Looking back at our misplaced amusement, I find it funny how we put the emphasis on the wrong word. God is trying to kill us so we might truly live. So we might taste His flavors, see His colors, listen to His music, and not be satiated with our less than stellar designs, our own flawed artistry. Yet, we cry and scream and hold on to what we believe is the only way, and by doing so, we prolong the natural grief that comes with dying the death of our own white picket fences, our neatly groomed lawns, and our 2.5 children with my nose and his eyes. We prolong the moment when our lives come into focus with divine vision, and for a season, we live in a world of awareness and recognition of God’s faithfulness and goodness. And because we are fallen creatures, that vision inevitably blurs once again, as our flesh fights back, and death must make a return trip in Emily Dickinson’s carriage, over and over and over. You see, on this side of eternity, we are never really done with dying, so that we are never really done with living.
I have a few friends who are in the middle of their own seasons of death right now. I bet you do too. That turn on the wheel of life is only one spin away. Marriages fail, parents get sick, jobs ask too much, children rebel, and we are left with mortal wounds and the sickening sound of silence. It may be you, at this moment, standing at the edge of a newly dug grave, where you see your expertly manicured plan for your life decaying before your very eyes. Weep wildly but take heart. That dull gray of death will give way soon to a life you could not have planned if you tried. Yes, my friends, dying is not just an inevitable journey we will take at the end of a sequence of days on this planet. I submit it is as necessary to the experience of God’s life for us as our next breath is to sustaining our physical existence. So, raise a glass with me, if you will, to death. Our greatest adversary and our most important ally.