It started out like most conversations with me do: on a rather inane topic, followed by a series of rabbit trails that lead to a thought that consumes my mind for the next few hours. This was no exception.
I stopped by the office of our Associate Pastor this morning, just to say hi and ask about his plans for Thanksgiving. He in turn inquired about a bizarre foot injury I incurred over the weekend. You know, just the standard shooting the breeze. I explained that my foot was doing better (I hurt it getting out of bed to check on my son; once I planted my right foot on the floor, it suddenly gave way and I toppled over, narrowly missing the corner of my dresser; the outer edge of my foot hurt like crazy afterwards, all weekend long), and he made a comment that opened the first rabbit trail.
“You know, it’s just scary when your body does things you can’t explain.”
I agreed, and we both began talking about one of our church members who was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and who has seen his body succumb to the disease much faster than anyone had predicted. Or had hoped. If you don’t know what ALS is or what it does to the body, then just click on this link and take a second to read up. It’s a devastating disease, both for those who have it and for those who take care of it’s victims.
I casually mentioned that ALS had been a recent plot point (albeit a minor one) on Criminal Minds.
“One of the BAU team has his ex-wife come to him and ask him to help her commit suicide,” I said. “She tells him she has ALS and wants to out on her own terms.”
Naturally, this led to us discussing the idea of death and how to face it. I told him that the character on Criminal Minds decides NOT to help his ex-wife commit suicide, as it goes against both his own moral code and the law of the land, but ends up watching her die after she overdoses on pills. Death, we decide is something that some people welcome; others, not so much.
“I’m not afraid to die,” he said. “But I do have my preferences on how I’d like to go.”
“Yeah – I’m not afraid of the end. It’s the means to the end that concern me.”
I talked about my two grandfathers – how one suffered for a long time and then died almost immediately from a heart attack, while the other slowly left us while we watched. He talked about his first wife and her long battle with cancer, and how some people had asked him how he was able to survive the ordeal.
“You know, you just make peace with the fact that there’s something better beyond this world. In fact,” he said, “I’m reminded of a little article I read, probably 20-30 years ago, in a youth Sunday school booklet. It was called ‘The Borning Chamber’ and it compared the birth of a baby to our birth into eternity.”
He went on to talk about the comparisons: the warmth and comfort of our own little world’s; the relative darkness that surrounds us; the slow process of becoming more and more aware of life being something more; the sudden shift as our world begins to contract; the pushing and fighting against the movement towards our future; the discomfort and pain of being moved from the world we know to the one beyond it; the instant change in our perceptions – the bright light, the loud noises, the coldness, the uncertainty of where we suddenly are.
“Of course, thank goodness heaven will be much nicer than this,” he said, smiling.
I’ve thought about this almost all afternoon. As someone to whom death seems like a close cousin, or at the very least an obnoxious neighbor, there’s something about this imagery that appeals to me, helps me make sense of something that I see all too often (at least, all too often as far as I’m concerned). We are always in the process of moving from this life to the next, whether it’s us personally or humanity in general; with the recent announcement that the world population is officially over the 7 billion mark, I’m reminded that we are always going somewhere as the human race.
But what I like most of all in this analogy is the idea that, just like a newborn, the world that awaits beyond this one will be full of new sights and sounds and smells and colors. It will be a world unlike any I’ve ever known, just as this world was new to me when I was born into it. I often forget that once upon a time this world was something breathtaking for me to behold, and though I am reminded of that fact time and again by my children’s response to it, I simply don’t see the universe with such awe these days.
Maybe now, though, I will – maybe I will re-view the world through the eyes of one just born, see it as if for the first time in all of its splendor and glory and majesty and God-defining radiance. Maybe I will drink in the unique blue of the sky and the singular amazement of the stars. Maybe I will see the beauty of this world and remember that, for all of its wonder, it only points to what is to come.
And if so, then I’ll certainly remember this: to be born, in this world or the next, is to live.