“Fear death? To feel the fog in my throat…” begins Robert Browning’s poem “Prospice.” But, who fears death? Why? Tillich calls this the “fear of nonbeing.” Colloquially, we say “fear death” yet most people get up each day and go through their routines. Death lives on a distant horizon, simultaneously existing and not-existing.
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Courtney is a significant person in my life. She has special needs, lives alone, works part time at a private school, and attends the church where I am pastor. She and I are about the same age, yet she lives at the age of 8 or 10. She constantly thinks about death. Funerals fascinate and repel her. She will recount with vivid details a funeral I conducted years earlier. She remembers some people who have died. “Do you remember so-and-so?” she will say.
“Yes,” I reply.
“He really liked baseball.”
“Yes, he did.”
Then, the conversation fades.
Is her fascination with death unnatural? She might be articulating something that most adults repress. Everyone dies. There is a 100% mortality rate. Is this realization morbid? No. Humanity is designed to die. Dracula and zombies are popular because they cannot exist. But… what if they did? They cannot. Everyone will die.
In the face of this moribund reasoning, hope remains. “For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave” (Browning). People do not live on the edge of death. Healthy lives focus on being. Go to work. Go to school. Go to church. Go to the Y. Go out with friends. Walk the dog. Plan a trip. Read the news. Listen to music. Enjoy a concert. Think about retirement. These activities are the tip of the proverbial iceberg of life.
Each activity has meaning. Work can be a source of fulfillment and joy. School can stimulate, challenge, and reward. Every task can provide challenges to overcome. Taken individually, the activities provide the disambiguation of life. Death is not absent. Other people die. Life is a combination of activities and intentional inactivity. Rest. Relax. Pray.
A female robin sits on the branch outside my window. It reminds me that God cares about humanity. “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).
As long as we have breath in our lungs, hope remains for the future. We can focus on being and let nonbeing take care of itself.