I was reading a book the other day that said we never really believe we ourselves will die, and after I thought about that statement for a while, I had to agree. I read the newspapers about thousands of people dying in wars. I see people I know die and I know intellectually that one day I will die too. But if I look deep down inside myself, I find it really hard to believe death will come to ME. There’s a little niggling part that says an exception will be made in my case, that I am immortal.
After all, life is all I know, all I have ever known. As far as I am concerned the world didn’t exist until I was born. I certainly don’t remember anything else. I have no recollection of heavenly clouds and angels; I have no recollection of other lives in other times; of being a bodiless soul looking over the earth for a compatible womb to inhabit.
In fact, my earliest memory is about age three when I woke up in the morning in my crib. I had to go potty and was yelling for my mother to come and get me so I wouldn’t wet my pants. Over the next few years the world blinked in and out of reality while I created it – somewhat like the Australian aborigines who sang the world into existence.
And all through my childhood I was the center of this world, all revolved around me, the good and the bad, all were designed for my instruction and amusement. As my memory grew and deepened the world became more solid and I became more immortal even as I watched the cycles of life and death turn all around me. If I die how can the world possibly go on without me? Will I ever cease to exist?
Just as I remember nothing before I was born, I foresee nothing that may happen if I die (you see, I am still unconvinced of the inevitability of mortality). If I die, will I take this memory of life with me or leave it behind like a suitcase forgotten in a bus station? If I have no recollection of what was before birth, how can I have any recollection of what I experience during this life time?
Thees are the questions posed to us on Ash Wednesday, the questions to ponder for the next six weeks of Lent. Is dust both our origination and destination? Or are we more than the leavings of matter, dust balls swept up from under the bed, cobwebs in high corners that are lifted off by old brooms, rag rugs that are whipped and shaken out the window?
Lent invites us to consider the conundrums of time and eternity, of body and soul, of regret and repentance, and the differences of birth and death and life. It invites us to question who we are and why we are here. It asks if there a great Forgetting to transcend. Are the big bang and the black hole two sides of the same door?
And now a little levity from the book I was reading about death:
The doctor told Mrs. Malone her husband had only one month to live but if she helped he might recover. “What can I do,” asked Mrs. Malone.
The doctor said, “You have to cook delicious meals every night and let him watch all of his favorite programs on television. You must give him a massage at night and breakfast in bed every morning. You have to laugh at all of his jokes and agree with his opinions. Make sure he takes a nap every afternoon and never argue with him. Every Thursday night, invite his friends over for poker and make all his favorite snacks.”
When Mrs. Malone got home from the doctor’s office, her husband asked, “So, what did the doctor say?” “He says you got a month to live,” she answered.