The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death. I am old and move slowly, and the slower runner has overtaken me.
Socrates, in Plato’s Apology
Yesterday I was walking back to the house alone after feeding the pigs. Stars coming out, it was a glorious and brisk Shenandoah evening. On my mind and heart was a loved one who is nearing the end of life. I was deeply struck: how bracing it must be to face death as imminent. How seldom I myself really reckon with the possibility, nay the coming reality of my own death.
I suppose this is just one of those things in human life. Life is so full, so demanding; only with real effort can I get myself to reckon with its simply screeching to a halt. Death is very difficult to imagine.
I really, really love being alive. It is with gratitude and a recognition that it could have been otherwise that I say this. There is so much I still want to do, and so many ways I need to grow. And especially, there is so much I still want to do and to be for my family, my friends, and others! It can make me short of breath.
Some would suggest that we not think about death. Just keep pushing ahead. This is tempting, simply to put it out of my mind. Why dwell on death?
But given that any number of things could instantly render my body lifeless—this body I love, I must somehow integrate this truth into how I live. Every day.
It sounds trite. But I am moved anew to live each day as a gift. There are a million things that could have prevented me from being conceived. But here I am! Everything I have done might not have been. And, Oh Lord!, every person I know and love, and even those I struggle to love… it is all pure gift. Every moment with them. Every single moment.
If a new day is but another gift, how can I respond? I must learn to live in gratitude. And this means to learn to live well, in righteousness. To become the man, husband, father, friend, teacher, student, citizen, that I am called to be: this is the great challenge!
I will do what I reasonably can to stay healthy and safe in body. I will focus more on responding to the call to righteousness implicit in the gift of life.
Socrates saw with clarity that the great evil is unrighteousness, failing to become who I am called to be. Death itself cannot undermine or even lessen the transcendent good of a life well lived. As Socrates boldly proclaims: “Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know this as truth – that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.”
He had this confidence from his life experience. I too take this confidence thence; and even more, because the Lord of life and death has said so.
So be of good cheer my heart, and quail not as you go your way today. And to my dear loved one who is, perhaps, more proximate to death: be of very good cheer! The slower runner may soon overtake you. But the faster runner is far, far from your door.
- Thinking About Death – for the Sake of Life
- Remembering Death
- Touching Death – Mourning Physically Through Burial
- The Heart, In Suffering
- Remembering Our Dead Daily
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