Azrael, Angel of death in Jewish mysticism.
“Death is something we shouldn’t fear because, while we are, death isn’t, and when death is, we aren’t.”
― Antonio Machado
Oh, but yes, Antonio, we do fear death. We live our lives in fear of death, that great unknown. And each day is a death, the death of one moment to the next moment, this moment is dead, now, and this next, and now, and this, too…
Think about it: our culture does everything in its power to avoid death.
Celebrities are forever young. “50 is the new 40.” We say someone has “passed away,” instead of saying: “he has died.” Our voices lower to a murmur when death is mentioned, as if it is something shameful. Doctors rail us with promises that we need never age. If only we eat right, if only we exercise enough, if only we learn how to handle our emotions enough, as long as we are happy enough… we will not – die?
But the wrinkles come, and with the wrinkles, wisdom.
As far as I know, there is no fear of death in faith. And as far as I know, that there is no fear of death has nothing to do with what happens after we die. As far as I can understand, there is no fear of death in faith because faith brings us into this present moment, this one moment given to live, to breath, to serve, to give thanks. This is all there is.
And yet we are simply human, are we not? We are simply human, given to fear and anxiety and anger and rage. We are simply human, and so we do fear death. The fear of death seems to be a part of life.
Still, some cultures seem more able to allow death to have a seat at the table. In Mexico, The Day of the Dead brings all ages to graveyards, to eat and to dance and to walk and to be together, among the dead, for remembering, for honoring, as part of life.
No one wants a young person to die, and so we all grieve with the grieving mother. It is true, a child should not die before the parent, this does seem unnatural to us, and it is a wound that no human being should be made to suffer. And yet it is a wound that many suffer. Death claims the young.
We have no freedom from death, as much as we want to run from it, to avoid it, to challenge it, to shake our fists at death. We have no freedom from death. Death is always with us, in this perfect, fleeting, precious moment. Death is always with us.
Death is like the partner who walks with us, wherever we go. “There she is, always following me around,” we might say. And if we turn to look, to nod, to speak to her, she may have something for us, some wisdom, some honesty, some truth to add to our life. Can we embrace her? Can we learn about her, walk with her a bit, learn from her, learn what it is that a final ending to what we know can mean for us now, those of us who walk among the living?
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle, Dylan, but take a look, get to know that good night.
I think that part of wisdom is to begin to acknowledge death, that one who walks with us, wherever we go. I see my friends growing older, some refusing to acknowledge that yes, “50 is not the new 40,” that, “50 is 50,” and that is good. And I see some of my friends growing older, knowing that as their health changes and as families grow older and move away, there is yet a beauty, a richness, an honor in accepting that “50 is 50,” and it is good.
You are going to die. Now – how will you live? – meb, 4/2015/Good Friday