Old Enough to Die
February 7, 2019
Barbara Ehrenreich, in her new book Natural Causes, opens her chapters with this basic thesis: Each of us born into this world is on a trajectory toward death. Ehrenreich’s thinking leads to a new acceptance of the human condition, from the point of science and logic. Her advice is: Eat the chocolate; drink the wine. Love the journey and don’t fool yourself into thinking extra time at the gym or on the jogging trail will extend what is yours to live, because, mortality is the direction of life on this planet. Now she is clear to say that we do not have an expiration date stamped on us; that would be too grim. But passing away, going to glory, breaking the bonds of mortal life will come to all of us; some of us sooner, and some of us later. End of story, and yet….
Before Christmas we attended the funeral of a friend whom we had known through business connections and various social circles for over 30 years. Tom was remembered for his goodness, his philanthropy, his love of the arts and his love of life. He died on a pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago trail from France into Spain. One of those who spoke said, “He began his walk in France and ended his walk in heaven.” The church was filled with his friends and business associates who chatted among themselves thanksgivings and remembrances of a good man.
Most people were gray-haired. Most were long time Raleigh folks, many of whom we recognized. I told my husband we look at each other seeing each other with memory-encoded eyes that see the youth and vitality of who we once were. Who in that church was old enough to die? Ehrenreich would say the answer is - every one of us who was there, even those who had colored or bleached their hair and put on their pearls and denial heels so high they could hardly walk down the cobble brick walkway of the church.
Tom was a musician and lover of the arts. The music in the service was Mozart and Beethoven and pieces from The Planets. My heart swelled in the music of genius that was fairly short lived in the flesh. Mozart died in his 30s; Beethoven in his 50s, after living his last 15 years in deafness. Time to gray was not theirs; but fullness of life was. They were old enough to die, and their gift to the world goes on beyond their mortality. There is a lesson in this.
Words from John 14:1 - 6 were read. Jesus’s promise and Good News to his disciples is found in the rest of John 14, beyond verse 6. Read it for yourself. Jesus is speaking farewell to his disciples. He tells them not to be afraid, because he is with them and will go before them to show them what is beyond this human life, a glorious eternity with God. Jesus’ promise is glory beyond the losses and suffering of mortal life that can be harsh and unfair, too short and fraught with hurt and pain. And Jesus speaks into a truth that at some point we all will have to learn to live without each other.
Jesus also speaks a promise: “God will send an Advocate, the Holy Spirit who will teach you everything and remind you of what I have said to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid.”
Fear of death is more thief than death itself. We lose the life we have – a life to pilgrimage through a far away place – a life of loving our family and friends – a life of rejoicing in the light of the morning – a life of hope and prayer - when we are crippled with fear. Trusting the Alpha and Omega God and living every day a Resurrection life of joy crushes fear.
Love life. Celebrate family and friends. Love the work we are called to do. Are we old enough to die? Vincent died at 6 months. Renee died at 6. Andrew died in third grade. Linda died in 6th grade. Cameron died at 10. Paisley at 19. Harold died in Viet Nam at 22. Marlee and Jim died in their 50s. Tom died at 71 living his passion on the Camino de Santiago. I could fill the page with names and ages of those whose time on this side of heaven is ended. I am thankful not to know the hour and time of death ahead of that moment, and I laugh at the notion of death when I see Tom’s mother making potato salad at 96.
I am surely old enough to die. My prayer today, like everyday is:
For this one day, if I never have another, I give thanks. Amen.