Yesterday, I went to the funeral of my old church choir director, the sort of man who achieved greatness the old-fashioned way; he changed the lives of countless people around him by helping them find character strengths and skills they did not know they possessed, and he helped them grow from uncertain youth to a more confident adulthood. Today also happens to be the one-year anniversary of the death of my father. Also, in the past year I have been diagnosed with Cancer, been to several other funerals, and had some unpleasantly direct experience with how the present media culture treats the families of violent crime, so I am a bit more aware of death in my thoughts and ponderings than normal.
We live, we die. These are immutable facts in the human condition. I could make some profound religious or philosophical observation on what happens after we die, I suppose, but it would likely not be original, even if it was worth the effort. And it would be poor, cold comfort to the people left behind to mourn the loss. It’s nice to be told that our loved ones are happy and doing well on the other side of the grave, and we might even take some comfort in the hope that we can believe in something more after the death of the body, but in the present we all have to face that death is right here, everywhere all the time. Dying means pain, the grotesque internment of the body as garbage, and the undesired change in reality for everyone connected to the deceased. C.S. Lewis, the Oxford Don and famous as a great apologist for Christianity in the modern age, wrote about the pain he endured when his wife Joy died from Cancer. It was, he felt, grossly unfair and painful to everyone, and it also seemed that everything someone said to him showed how little they understood the situation. If so great an optimist as Lewis felt this way during the passing of his wife, we should not be surprised that anyone else would feel the same suffering.
Yet for all of that, I cannot accept the notion that death should be the focus of a person’s life. We are born and we must die, yes, but all that happens in between those events is of tremendous importance. Indeed, all of History comes down to men and women choosing ways to use their opportunities to act in ways that change Reality. Even when they sometimes had to die to do so. And many times, the people who changed the world the most, were far more than they seemed on the outside.
It’s no great wisdom to say it, but I think it’s a good idea to repeat the fact that living matters more than dying. Anyone can die, and we all get there eventually. Living, and living to a good end, is much much harder and significant. People mourn a person’s death, specifically because the way they lived mattered.