Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Little Reflection on Death

Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun (1987), with the fine acting of a very young Christian Bale, showed his young protagonist being jolted out of an innocent childhood into a voyage of endurance and survival, always being pushed by circumstances beyond his control, toward death.

My experience with cancer this past April showed me that, even surrounded by my family, prayed for by loved ones, friends, and complete strangers near and far, death and the fear of death is a lonely thing to endure. It is a dark night of the soul, borrowing from Saint John of the Cross.

I am back to the same distance I was running prior to surgery, lifting the same weights, doing the same number of pull-ups (almost). But I will know the same corporal, visceral, gut-wrenching fear again, if I'm blessed. That is, I hope I'm not hit by a bus.

The church history professor back at Duke said that persons in the Middle Ages prayed for a long, lingering death so as to get properly ready to meet their Maker (as opposed to today's weakling-wish to die in one's sleep). And I agree.

Unlike some I presume, I did not feel particularly close to God, feel any comfort or experience any "lights" or easing of the fear of death. It was a true casting myself upon a faith that my prima materia (a) had a Source outside my (puny, finite) self; (b) that Source has chosen to reveal himself in Scripture, the Catholic Church's Tradition, and knowledge of Whom is vouchsafed in the Magisterium; and (c) that same revealing and covenant-making Source of my being can certainly be trusted to see this (puny, finite) self past biological cessation, if he wants to.

That's the best it gets for me. I still feel a physical fear of death that all the runs and weights lifted cannot abate. I do, however, get some comfort in the honesty of the Gospels saying that Our Lord felt the same kind of fear in the Garden of Gethsemane. Or so I read it.

I don't want to die, but I really don't get any choice. Neither do you, you just haven't experienced its awe-full presence near you, maybe. So I plan to keep my eyes open, hang on to the faith of the Church and her saints, and be pleasantly surprised. I hope.

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