Saturday, February 16, 2013


Totally stolen from the internet
Death makes sense to me because it is so certain, one of the only certainties I have. No matter what stage I am in, there is a flat horizon somewhere ahead, an unchanging landmark that I sometimes would rather forget about. See that over there, where earth meets sky? That is a straight line, like a flatline on an electrocardiogram's screen. That’s where mortal life ends, where we must all fall off head first into the unknown. "I will show you fear in a handful of dust" says T.S. Eliot. Death is the overwhelming end of this reality. This is sobering knowledge to me, and I realize that much of my day-to-day preoccupations are a waste of time. However, I accept this absurd wasteland with faith because I believe in Christ, the resurrection, and the promise of a new birth.

Birth has some parallels to death. Both seem a lot like being flung through a door. Have you seen the way a child enters this "vale of tears"? It is not usually a very graceful, tender performance. I actually thought my first child was dead when she was born. Her face was squashed and purple and she lay there on a tray like some lifeless invertebrate wet with blood and horror. I looked at the doctor with concern as he whisked her up and onto some sort of ventilator for her first breath of life. She was fine, but it made me realize how savage and crass this life is, in spite of all our efforts to make it seem sanitary and decorous.

I wonder how it will be when I exit, what sort of receiving party waits on the other side of life. Will I flop into the next world looking as ridiculous and unprepared as I entered in?

As I look forward to the arrival of our third child, I can’t help but think about this life. I have a strange but wonderful job right now as Health Care Aide at a care facility, taking care of dying people. My day is filled with reminders of this short, fragile little pilgrimage, and just how unreliable our bodies really are. I am particularly intrigued with palliative care, when someone is preparing to die. It is strange to see their open, toothless mouths, and watch their last breaths as if they are exhaling their very souls into some vast unknowable realm. It is so easy, the way they leave their bodies behind, like a hermit crab that outgrows its shell and scuttles out into the sea. For the most part, they are ready and willing to go. Old age does not generally "burn and rage at close of day" (Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.)

Some days, I feel like an usher stuck between two wide open portals of mortality. During the morning I take care of my children, make them breakfast, change their diapers, and in the evenings at my job, I do much of the same. I begin to see patterns in the cycle of life. Good morning, children, and welcome to earth. Goodnight Mrs. Pierson, and farewell. The beginning and end, and all in a day's work.

Covered in blood and water and spirit, I was once placed with limbs outstretched into my mother’s arms, and I cried, in discomfort and insecurity. I must have known it was a temporary existence, that it would someday end. Perhaps that is what Adam and Eve were hiding from in Eden. “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:10) Perhaps their nakedness reminded them of their vulnerability. Maybe it was the promise of death that filled them with terror and sent them scurrying for a hiding place, a reminder of God's decree and promise: “Thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17).

Ezekiel writes, “O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord…I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live” (Ezekiel 37:6). The dry bones, shaking in the valley of death, will once again receive their breath in the same way that I, as a newborn child, first cried out for air and life.