I never used to think about mortality. Even when my friends and high school classmates were being physically and mentally destroyed in Vietnam, I didn’t really think about my own mortality. I was very glad I didn’t have to go to war. I was young and life was long, why worry about death?
As I now approach retirement I find that thoughts of mortality come leaping unheralded into my consciousness. I often find myself engrossed in the daily toils of life, when unexpectedly my mind wanders into that realm so unimaginable just a few years ago. I read once that humans are the only creatures in existence who live their lives fully in the knowledge that someday they will die. We choose to ignore that fact for much of our lives, but ignoring the fact doesn’t change it.
I do have to admit though that the very thought of out-living my wife, of living alone and feeling my strength fade is terrifying. I have a growing fear of senility and of cancer. As the years stack up behind me, even the fear of frailty seems to somehow be stronger in me than the fear of dying. I don’t want to live in fear though. It’s just that the very idea of losing my vitality is more overwhelming to me than death. There is more to life than just existing. I truly understand what Dylan Thomas meant when he wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage! Rage against the dying of the light.”
Several years ago I visited a great-aunt who was blind and deaf, living in a care home. She sat through the final years of her life in dark silence. When we visited, we touched her hands to let her know we were there. She said aloud that she knew someone was there, and she thanked us for thinking of her, but she had no way of knowing who her guest was. I can only imagine her relief when her life force was freed.
I don’t perceive God as a being who would put us on this earth just to live a while and then die. That feels as though God is playing games and we are the game pieces. It certainly isn’t an idea that fits my concept of God. I think our purpose here is to learn…and by learning increase the knowledge and understanding of the universe from which our “souls” originate.
Maybe the knowledge and fear of mortality are the greatest teachers in this life. The fear of mortality becomes the reason we see both the fragility and the awe inspiring wonder of life. I appreciate youth and beauty. They are the promise of early spring. However, I have grown to appreciate companionship and love even more. I remember the joy and naivety of youth. I now recognize the importance of every short day of this very short life. I’m not ready for it to be over, but it will be someday anyway. How far is it really…to heaven?
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