When An End Is A Beginning

photos-of-deep-space-telescope-hubbleThe end of a movie or book often spawns the beginning of reflection, criticism, analysis; the ending of a life, however, pitches us out into the unknown, where reflection is often troublesome or simply too emotional to sustain. People, I think, like their reflections on life at the time of a death to be neatly tied up in church, accompanied by an invocation, eulogy, music, prayers and some form of closing that enables us to move on. As a rule, they do not like discussions, especially casual discussions, about death.

My sister-in-law passed recently, at the youthful age of 58.  Moving on has been problematic. I first met her when she was but a newly minted teenager of great energy, compassion, and humor. During the ensuing forty-four years of marriage to her sister, I have always thought of her as that young teenager, forever young and energetic. She remained so in many ways. I have experienced significant passings of grandparents, parents, and uncles/aunts; but, none of these passings has impacted me quite like the unexpected passing of my younger sister-in-law.

images-2I willing admit that much of this angst is simply my own mortality creeping into my consciousness. Still, this exercise where my sister-in-law is concerned, is not without more thought provoking experiences than earlier passings. Youth is aware of loss, but largely oblivious to the promise of mortality. The inevitability of death is obvious, but easily put aside inside the rush of youthful possibility. I have read of Galileo hypothesizing that the Bible tells us how to get to heaven; but, it does not tell us where heaven goes! This is a more mature thought, experienced after the passing of youthful blush and excitement. Consider: No one in Orange or Crimson ever truly considered the possibility of losing and walking away empty-handed; not until the final gun at game’s end. Anticipation, hope, energy or passion have a way of masking what really lies ahead.

I noted above that people do not like casual discussions of death, and I experienced the discomfort recently. Most of my acquaintances knew of my sister-in-law’s passing and knew her death came without warning, at a young age. While talking with people at this party, several of them inquired as to how my wife and I were doing. Foolishly, I told them. I don’t think they wanted an honest answer. Looking into their eyes as I laid out my existential concerns and coping methods for my wife and myself I saw a glaze slowly descend over their eyes, as they retreated to safety in the recesses of their minds. Their expectation was for me to say “Ok.” Or, they might expect me to say, “It’s difficult, but we’re coping. So, who do you like Clemson or Alabama?”

I know, I know.  You’re probably thinking it was the wrong context for those comments. Death had no regard for my context, and if they didn’t want to know how I felt, they shouldn’t have asked. They could have avoided the issue by either not mentioning it or simply saying “I was saddened by your unexpected loss. Please accept my condolences.”

The real frustration lay in the fact that I had found a way to cope! I was trying to explain where I was at this moment and why!

The basis for my comfort is that I do not consider my God to be a vengeful, helicopter God, smacking our knuckles when we make an error, or rewarding us with a star when we do something good. This vision makes no sense to me, just as I find no substance in  the idea that our lives are scripted in advance, and we simply play out the plan. All these ideas beg the question of why live at all if this is the case?

images-1There are people on the far right that publicly proclaim that Aids, famine, earthquakes, and other natural disasters are punishment meted out by God for our tolerance of abortion, homosexuality, and every other handy issue of disdain. I find these positions so primitive in thought and logic. If this is true, what did the American Indians do wrong that required punishment at Wounded Knee, or The Trail of Tears? What did so many Asians do wrong that required tsunamis and earthquakes to wipe out whole cities and  civilizations? What did the Jewish people do so wrong that required the Holocaust as punishment? What did African Americans do to warrant slavery and racism? Where was God when the Twin Towers came down?

We are the agents of our own destiny, individually and collectively – people like to stress the individual over the collective, and that is a major fallacy for me. We will be judged on how we handled what came our way; and, what comes our way is often random, or the result of our choices or somebody’s choices at some point in time. We might experience great abundance, or painful need, all of which do not come to us from a plan, but simply as the product of natural life on this physical existence.

Yes, bad things happen to good people; bad things also happen to bad people. That’s life, and we will be judged by how we cope, handle, adapt, adjust, or ameliorate our circumstance. I can’t imagine anger being part of the Creator’s makeup. A spirit that can create eternity would have a more balanced perspective of the universe, or whatever is outside what we know.

A most unfortunate and untimely ending has prompted me to a new beginning, and for that I am most grateful and appreciative.

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