Our lives will end. We are all mortal. This is an immutable fact. We cannot change the reality that the existence we inhabit, enjoy, and know will one day cease. Reality may end in a hospice bed surrounded by family and friends. For some, it will end as their homes are bombed from above. Others will die from diseases transmitted by the smallest living creatures. Still some will die when they are executed on the floor of a nightclub. In the end, we will all be dead. Death is the great equalizer par excellence. Each of us hopes, that following our passing, to leave a legacy. Memories of our lives and work will rest with our family and friends. And, yet, after a time, these memories too shall die.
In the wake of the terrorist attack in Orlando early Sunday morning; survivors, families, and friends are attempting to support each other in the face of death’s ordinary brutality. They do this by asking questions, telling stories, and questioning the unnatural arrival of death’s all too natural presence. In crisis, people sing, light candles, and gather near those whom they love. These images are strong and powerful. However, they do not change the underlying reality: death is real, the songs will fade, the candles will be extinguished, and our mourning becomes one part of the global symphony of grief.
We’re Americans, death isn’t supposed to happen to us. Jesus didn’t beat death on the cross. John Wayne beat death on Iwo Jima along with Davy Crocket at the Alamo. Death is for losers. This is the “American mythology”. When death does come knocking, it’s supposed to be quiet and private after we’re old and frail, well from the public eye. Death is messy because we are messy. Confronting death’s messiness, whether in changing a bedpan or in the last fear filled texts from a night club bathroom, isn’t something we want to do. Death says, to understand why your loved one died, “you might have to grasp that hate is not a monolithic thing, it might be mental illness and religious fundamentalism wrapped up together”. Death asks you to think about complex ideas when you’re craving simplicity. Death is complex.
You’ve got today. Do something good. If you want to sing a light a candle; I’ll give you a match and help you find your pitch. Tomorrow isn’t promised. You are going to die. I am going to die. Life will end and everything we thought was so important won’t have mattered at all. As painful as the reality of death seems, if you miss the opportunity to live in this moment, you have invited death into the present. Do not give death a reality it has yet to earn.
Find something that is important and benefits life and denies death the gift of today. Live life to its fullest and meet the reality of death head on. Zika doesn’t have to kill today, Malaria doesn’t have to murder now, and hunger doesn’t have to take a life.
Death is a reality but death doesn’t have to win the day. It’s hard to hold those two ideas in our heads. I know this. That’s why I’m glad for the opportunity to work on it each day. Life is singing your name. Find a way to shout death down and answer when you hear life say, “do something now!”.