Last night I had a vivid dream that I entered death through a dark car accident, the space between this world and the next began to morph. I abruptly awoke, but it has me pondering today.
Like a woman searching and finding love
Like an ocean buried and bursting forth
Where it comes, flowers grow
Lions sleep, gravestones roll
Where death dies, all things come alive
Where it comes, water’s clean
Children fed, all believe
When death dies, all things live
All things live –Gungor “When Death Dies”
So here we are in the Lenten season, we creep along the 40 days leading to death, we stroll the 40 days leading to life. I know of no greater season for the contrast of death and life than that of Lent. It is the narrative of Christianity that life comes after death, they are inexplicably bound. It is the announcenment of life at the end of Lent that changes the rules, quite certainly changes everything.
When death dies, how should we live?
We all get to choose somewhat how we live, at least the attitude we can give to this life of ours. We can follow the blindness of consumer culture, believing that meaning can be bought or acquired, of course it’s folly and expensive. We can follow the idols of self-reliance and radical achievements, only to find in the end they were a kind of fool’s gold. All the shine to others, but lack the intrinsic value we hoped for. We can pursue the circus of self-pleasure, seekng the excitement of life under the big-top, denying our eyes and bodies nothing we desire. The circus turns to be the freak show that the colorful poster promised, a short night of chaos.
When death dies, how should we live? In the end, will we have lived any differently?
I’m pondering the end of the story of David Brook’s “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement”. In the last chapters of their life, Erica and Harold find meaning in not running the rat race, but finding a different story altogether.
“They had also achieved what is called success, but theirs was a different kind of success. Without really thinking about it, they had created a counter-culture. They didn’t consciously reject the lifestyle of the affluent mainstream; they just sort of ignored it. They lived and thought differently, and their lives had taken on a different and deeper shape. They had a greater awareness of the wellsprings of the human heart, and when you met them you were impressed by their substance and depth.” (p. 363)
How many people do you know that are the kind of social animals that can be described this way? How rare is it to watch a person live within a kind of security of being, comfortable in their identity and have the swagger to walk in their own skin? I can say at least within the rat-race of American culture, it’s as scarce as hen’s teeth.
It is Nietzsche that said, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” Brooks then goes on to give this gem from Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning to describe that meaning in life is only discernble within the specific conext of one’s specific life. In the war concentration camps:
“We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those where were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right contact.” (p. 369)
How do we measure success in this so called life? It has got to be more than collecting a paycheck long enough so you can collect shells on the beach in the end. Excuse my language, but it better be a hell of lot more.
Brooks describes Harold’s passage from this world to the next with a kind of poetic brilliance that remarkably resembles the experience of my own dream. It is such a mystery isn’t it, the locative space between this world and the next? If you have never sat at the bedside of someone in hospice care and watched this transition happen, you absolutely should. It is soul-shuttering and beautiful. Brooks pens the transition this way:
“Harold entered the hidden kingdom entirely and then lost consciousness forever. In his last moments there were neither boundaries nor features. He was unable to wield the power of self-consciousness but also freed from its shackles. He had been blessed with consciousness so that he might helpf direct his own life and nurture his inner life, but the cost of that consciousness was an awareness that he would die. Now he lost that awareness. He was past noticing anything now, and had entered the realm of the unutterable. . . . Harold had achieved an important thing in his life. He had constructed a viewpoint. Other people see life primarily as a chess match played by reasoning machines. Harold saw life as a neverending interpenetration of souls.” (p. 376)
When death dies, how should we live?
I want to see what Harold saw. I want to not just search for mening, but bathe in it’s waters. I want to throw off the scales of this faulty flesh and see with the soul of my inner life. I want to know, experience and lavish in the love that created us all. There is more, when death dies, there is so much more.
For these 40 days of Lent, this is my haunting question. When death dies, how should we live?