Tuesday, February 4, 2014

On Death and Perspective

I had a conversation yesterday about death. Well, it seems I have that conversation a lot.

When my father died when I was 40, I knew that I was ahead of the curve in experiencing something that most of us will experience, the death of a parent. I was just experiencing it earlier in life than most of my peers. My mother died when I was 45, making me what they call a "mid-life orphan."

Yesterday, a small group of us had lunch together after church. Two people had lost their fathers in the past 2 weeks. One, two months ago. Another, just over a year ago. When I looked around the room it became obvious to me that almost everybody in the room that was over 25 had already lost at least one parent.

A few days ago I found out that a childhood neighbor died. He was 54 and a nationally renowned physician, but to me he was the big brother of one of my best friends and a tireless basketball player.

Yesterday morning I heard that the mother of another childhood friend had died. I remember her driving carpool.

A dear friend remembers with pain and grief the death of her toddler nine years ago today.

So, yeah, death is on my mind a lot. It seems to be touching the lives of people I know. All the time.

I was there when my mother died. I knew she was in bad condition and drove the 4 hours to be with her. My sister called me when I was about 30 minutes out. "Mama's dying," she said.

"Tell her she can't go until I get there."

By God's grace, I got there in one piece and without a speeding ticket, despite my adrenaline rush and panicked lead foot.

She waited. She waited for everybody. And then she was ready to go.

It really is a strangely beautiful thing to watch someone die. To see them let go of this life and take hold of the hand of God. It is heartbreaking, yet it is beautiful.

What I love about death is the perspective it lends. All of the sudden the stuff of this life that we worry and fret about, the stuff that gets our panties in a wad and causes us to wring our hands and push ourselves and harden our hearts, all that stuff just sort of crumbles into nothingness. And we are left with all that matters.

It is easy to get overwhelmed and forget. In our Information Age we are fed a steady diet of facts and propaganda and opinions. Via social network we are urged and pressured to conform. And, sadly, even from the church we are often prodded more to perform than to love God and our neighbor.

But death will so easily topple our well made plans. It levels the playing field.

Raising kids is hard. I worry more than most, perhaps, for fear of "doing it wrong." But I have grown weary and tired of it all. At this point, I don't think all that other stuff matters. Not the discipline or the education, not the skills or the achievements, not the honor or the duty, not the success or the money, not the brains or the beauty, not even the good choices and the bad choices, not even whether or not they eat right. I don't care about that any more.

All I care about, for my children, is that they know in a very real way, the inexhaustible grace and endless mercy of Jesus. The rest is chump change.

And that goes for all of us. Because, in the end, nothing else really matters.

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