Death and Wisdom

In a little over a month three people in my parish have passed away. One was a venerable Archdeacon, a good man full of years. He had served His Lord and the Church for decades and passed peacefully in his sleep. The other two were young, a high school boy full of promise tragically taken in a car accident, and a man in his early twenties who reposed in the Lord after a brave battle with illness.

Three deaths in three different ways. Death is ingenious like that, it has the ability to come in as many ways as there are people to visit and no one, regardless of their age or station, is immune. We expect, in the normal course of life, for those along in years to die but even the young can, and do, leave this life. We have seen it, first hand, as December has given way to the new year.

There are no answers in all of this, at least not in the short term. We know, in each case, the cause of death but the greater questions of “Why?” will take time to ponder. It always does. Death challenges pious platitudes and easy answers because death has a profound depth to it, a great mystery in the best sense of that word, and easy answers seem to fall apart in the face of it.

Death is also, though, a forge of wisdom with the power to clarify the true value of things and burn through everything superficial. The knowledge that this time on earth is limited can be a source of frivolity where all of our efforts are focused on extracting fleeting glimpses of whatever we consider the good life in a mad dash before the deadline. It can also be a source of paralysis and despair where the idea of the inevitable end clouds every part of every point along the way. Or it can call us to something higher, to search for, and practice, the good, the true, the things that transcend the moment, and even life itself. If that is the course we choose, then, perhaps, even death, as mysterious and powerful and challenging as it is, has something to offer us in this life.

 

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