Thursday, September 15, 2011


It happened last night - one of too many text messages, telling me that my friend's sister had just passed away. I've never met her, know only pieces of her story, but felt deeply the heaviness and pain of deep loss, untimely loss, the kind of end of life that seems unfair and truncating and inexplicable. Dying is the end of all of us - it is what we know and what we hate to know, what we are fixed on a course toward and what we avoid with all of our effort. In short order, all of us who inhabit the earth now will be gone, and there will be new people to take our place, much like what you realize has happened five years after college when faces you don't recognize are living in your room, learning in your classes, driving on your roads. Things, including life, end. And I don't say this to be morbid, but to remember and live in the truth of life, which is that it ends. And living in light of this truth encourages me to live the kind of life that I really want, or want to want - the kind of life that is deeply invested in others and that matters in the eyes of God. My first encounter with death was when I was four years old. My grandfather died of pancreatic cancer, and although I don't remember being particularly sad or aware of what was going on at the time, I do remember feeling resentful at not being allowed to go to the funeral. I also remember my great aunt mistaking a strip of butter for string cheese at the wake; although getting to know her more later in life I wouldn't be shocked to know in hindsight that she was actually pleasantly surprised to be eating butter. She is gone now, too. In a chapel talk at Westmont this week (which I've only heard about from my dad, but am anxious to watch), Dallas Willard talked about the saved life. There are a bunch of questions that Dallas poses in his book Knowing Christ Today, but one of the most important in defining a worldview is 'What is the good life?' The saved life, as we might call it. What does it mean that Jesus has saved us? It is not, Dallas would argue, primarily about being saved from the torments of hell or the wicked ways of this world, as some might suggest. The saved life consists in deliverance. Deliverance to God, to a new life with God, to a life in which we love each moment because each moment is a moment where we might meet God. The world would distract us, which is the subtle temptation that Christians so often give into. A nicer car, a better image, a bigger wardrobe or home or bank account. Feeling 'happy,' arranging your life's circumstances so that you are 'happy' all the time and changing the circumstances when you are 'unhappy.' This is a worldview that we all buy into at some time or another in our lives, and it keeps us from living the kind of life that honors God and the kind of life that keeps death in mind. We are comforted into ignorance of our mortality. A year ago today, my dog died. Our family dog, Winston had been our pet for eleven years, outlasting by far all the other parakeets, rabbits, cats, and various other livestock that entered our home. He was a yorkshire terrier, gray and brown, with the most curmudgeonly personality imaginable. And we loved him. He had big, button eyes and horrible teeth and would perch himself on the corner of our couch and bark at anything that passed outside. My mom got him for us while my dad had driven to Missouri to pick us up from camp; we got home and ran with delight toward this ball of fur outside. "When did we decide to get a dog?" my dad asked my mom, who had brought the pup home unbeknownst to him. "I don't know when, but we must have! Why else would it be here?" And here he was, for eleven years, with us. And now he is gone. There is a new dog, a yellow lab, and my mom is very excited to have him. But for me, there will always be Winston. Life is not meant to be lived in ignorance of death. My time with my husband, my sister, my good friends is more rich and is better spent for knowing that we will not have this forever. That we will die, and that our life in light of that matters deeply to God - this is no small thing. And it does not make parting with loved ones easier, or less complicated. It is not an ignorance or denial of sadness and grief and anger. There is room for all of it. When I was a sophomore in college, I got a phone call late one evening from friends back in Chicago. One of our good friends had gone missing and, over the next few days, we found out that she had taken her life. None of us knew what to do with this; we still don't. It has shaken our faith, strengthened our faith, terrified us, made us angry and confused and closer. I flew back for her funeral, and on the program were a few words about her life and what I know now are lyrics to a song that perfectly captured the very bitter moment for us, and the sweetness for those who are with God: Imagine stepping on shore and finding it heaven Touching a hand and finding it God's Breathing new air, and finding it celestial Waking up in Glory, and finding it Home


MicheLe said...

At first I thought I was about to read a post on Fashion Week in New York. This was way better.

Anonymous said...

Laura, thanks for posting this. An old high school friend passed away last weekend so it's timely for me. I appreciate your insights. -Brad B

mycouponbasket said...

Yes indeed. I just loved the post. Keep writing.