I am now 84 years old. I have outlived most of my birth family and all but a very few of my oldest and dearest friends. While death is not imminnent, as far as I know, it is on the near horizon. I am also aware that my remaining years are likely to be marked by declining health and mental capacity. These circumstances have led me to look at my beliefs about life land death in a little different way than I have in the past.
I believe that life is a gift and that it is a privelege to participate in it. What leads me to that conclusion is that even a cursory glimpse at the universe reveals that it doesn’t need us, or is even aware of us. Our planet home would be better off if we humans had never evoved, and would undoubtedly recover nicely should we disappear. Since we do not fill a need in the observable world, it would seem that we exist as a result of largesse, a generous gift. Most of the time when we receive gifts, we seek for an appropriate respnse to them. They would not be gifts if there were conditons attached. So there is no requirement that we respond appropriately, but isn’t it a universal desire to want to honor, or deserve a gift? I feel that my response to life then should be, basically, gratitude. I should be thankful that I have been granted life. I am not unmindlful that there are lives, especially childrens’, that are marked by such suffering that gratitude would seem to be impossible, of a kind of insane mockery of their condition. But for the overwhelming majority of us, it is better to have known existence than to remain nothing. Gratitude, it would seem to me. plays out in becoming, as the Army puts it, all that we can be. That means cultivating the capacities of our minds. enlarging the area of our concerns for other people, sharing our gifts wherever and whenever possible. To do less would smack of ingratitude, I would think. To be nothing more than a consumer demeans the gift.
I believe that life itself is the gift, and that anything more than life is icing on the cake. That lesson was brought home to me forcefully many years ago as a prisoner in Stalag Luft IV and on the brutal forced march in winter that was part of that experience. But it is a lesson that is all to easily forgotter living in these very blessed United States. I have a stubborn belief that how we live our lives, the moral choices we make, matters in the grand scheme of things. That somewhere in the divine economy, how we live land what we do has meaning.. Certainly logic does not take me there, but neither is it entirely illogical. If I could prove it, it would not require faith. What is faith but, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”? It is beyond logic.
As for death, there is an uneasiness about entering a realm for which I cannot prepare myself. All of our thoughts and actions are bound up in space and time categories. We cannot get our minds around an existence in which they do no apply. It is tough enougfh to try to understand what lthe physicists and astronomers tell us aout lthe observable and their conclusions and theories based on that. To be part of something so totally other is beyond my ken. I have to fall back on Paul’s imagery of the seed that grows into something unimaginable, and dying to itslelf to achieve that result. But I do believe something is out there. Part of wht pursuades me is the argument I heard several years ago that in a world in which we are taught that inianimate matter deos not disappear, it just changes its form , it makes little sense to think that the most alive thing on earth, the human spirit, would simply disappear. In any event, at this point, one either believes in a benevolent God, or one doesn’t. I find a certain comfort in that, as far as I am capable of doing, I do believe.
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