What's even more morbid is a Google Image search for "death". Don't try that one if you're home alone.
You see, I was looking for a picture that I feel resonates with how I view death, a topic that seems to settle on my mind quite often. The morbid, grotesque, and caricatured anime renderings of death don't sit well with me. I view it more like...sunset on an autumn day.
In autumn, darkness blankets the sky at a noticeably earlier time of day; most plant life has reached its prime, is bearing or has born its fruit, and is now beginning its steady descent into the barren winter months; shadows slip out of hiding and join together in a haunting dance, happy to be rid of the sun's all-revealing light; details that were once razor sharp become eclipsed, made dull by twilight's softer glow; vivid oranges, yellows, and reds burst forward, a desperate swan song before being enveloped by the cimmerian darkness...it all points towards the nearing, inevitable end of the day.
Death, the end, is something that my generation doesn't think of enough. Well, allow me to re-phrase...we think about it plenty, but we don't think about it happening to us. We are inundated with death from sensationalist media, from film and entertainment, and from music (Neyo advises: "...for all we know, we might not get tomorrow / let's do it tonight..."), and from games. We are told stories about mass killings, terrorist bombings, black-hearted murders, and medical failures. We have laws against drunk driving, texting and driving, driving without our seat-belts, and a multitude of other distractions while driving. Why? Because we could die. Any one of those reports, stories, or broken laws could be us. But when we say "us", we have managed to somehow dissociate our individual selves from that pronoun, and in doing so we dissociate from the subject the pronoun was being linked to: death. "That news report could have been me, but it wasn't," our subconscious speculates, "and since none of those reports have ever been me, they probably never will be." Subconsciously, we falsely affirm our own immortality. So now when we say "us", we really mean "everyone else". Death affects people, but not me. It may come to a family member, but not to me. It might happen to a friend from high school, but not to me.
Furthermore, we have developed the ability to suppress our subconscious musings, never allowing them to bubble up to the surface, never thinking them on a conscious level. If someone asked me, "Nathaniel, have you ever thought that others may die, but you never will?", up until the last few years I could honestly answer, "No, I have not". I had never thought that phrase to myself. At least, I hadn't until people that I knew started brushing against death, while others fully embraced it. A handful of examples from my life:
- An acquaintance from high school, Richie Herskowitz, died from Cystic Fibrosis before he could celebrate his 18th birthday. He was the youngest ever recipient of a double lung transplant when he was only 6 years old.
- My grandfather almost died last year at age 75 when his gall bladder died and festered, without his knowledge, not long after a triple bypass surgery. The infection threatened his liver, stomach, and kidneys, but the doctors caught it before it caught him.
- Another acquaintance, that I met and spent time with on my summertime visits to California during high school, got involved with people that he should not have and was recently (within the last few months) shot and killed execution style in a field. If he had not taken the bullet himself, harm would have come to his grandmother, wife, and baby daughter.
- One of my favorite pastors, Bob Jennings, a man that I regard very highly, died this last November from pancreatic cancer. Reading his journal from the time he was diagnosed until he was on his death bed really affected me. There was a weightiness to his words, a vivid understanding of his own mortality, that shook me to the very core of my being.
In a moment of revelation, after pondering the death that had touched my life, it hit me like the proverbial sack of life-snuffing bricks: I'm gonna die. Not now, perhaps, and not even in a week or a year; but soon, very soon, I'm gonna die. "I am about to go the way of all the earth..." (1 Kings 2:2). All the earth is headed that direction, without exception, without partiality. We all die. Even you, friend, and even me.
In light of that reality, what matters should we be concerning ourselves with? Is all existence temporal and finite? Are all things truly vanity? Or is there something beyond the grave, that transcends death itself? If there is, that is what I want to concern myself with.
That something, I believe, is Christ Jesus and his kingdom. When my name is forgotten from history, when every last person I knew and who knew me has likewise died, and any memory of my existence has faded from the earth, Jesus, who brought all things into being for his pleasure and glory, remains. How many billions of people have walked this earth, breathed the same air, drank the same water, and then passed into obscurity? But Jesus was before time, is present in time, and will be forevermore. He holds all things together by the word of his power, and before he brought me into being, Jesus was there. When I fade, Jesus endures.
If Jesus is what matters, and he, his kingdom, and his people are the only things that last beyond the grave, then why not labor for the death-defying matters of a Christ-centered eternity?
I fear I will reach the autumn twilight of my life without ever having flourished, without ever having done anything that was lasting, and with the shadows skipping and leaping around me, that I will slip into the darkness of night. I fear my leaves will fall from barren, fruitless limbs. I fear that no harvest will have ever been reaped from my life.
I don't fear being forgotten; I fear not being worth remembering.
I look forward to being with my Savior, and I know that for me, when I fall asleep on this earth, I will wake up in Christ. But I pray that, in the meantime, my existence will not be a waste of time, a waste of space, or a waste of life. I pray that when I reach my autumn twilight I will happily embrace the falling darkness, knowing that the sun has set on a life well-lived, and that the next light I see will be his presence on eternity's horizon.