Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dealing with Death

You know, there are times when I truly feel the world is utterly gripped by insanity.

One of those times has been this week. Tuesday morning I got on the bus to go to class. I watched as friends chatted with one another as they walked to wherever they were going. I walked through the crowds of students. I looked at students handing out fliers for various events. I gazed at the busyness of it all, the excited activity of students pursuing success and enjoying college life. I walked to the math department, sat down for three hours taking notes, went to a seminar later in the day, and then went to dinner. I saw a friend at dinner, and we sat and talked about how his students had a test that night. We also talked about how our classes are going, and various other mathematical topics. Then we parted ways, he went to his test and I went home.

You couldn't even tell one of our own had died on Monday.

Why did they even bother to tell us? Why did they even bother to mention that counselors would be available to talk? Talk about what? Talk so we can get something out of our system, so that we can go back to work and continue to be productive, cranking out research for the machine that gives us funding?

"Did you know him?" Who cares if I knew him? A human being just died. Is that not enough for me to cry?

In our insanity we crawl right back to the big machine that we think will give us life. I guess it gives us a paycheck, if you call that life. Perhaps the insanity is fear. Are we afraid to face death? Maybe that's it. Maybe we think the big machine will keep us safe from death--even though it didn't save Matt.

Routines grant modern people a tragic substitute for salvation. In our insanity, we can scarcely even stop long enough to say, this life was more valuable than our routines. Can't we even shut down the department for one day, just to recognize that human life is more important than giving calculus tests and proving theorems?

But I fear that in this modern world, life only lasts so long and so is only valuable for what it can do, not for what it is. Gotta seize the day, right? As if going back to your work is seizing the day. As if you've gained anything of lasting value, anything that you can take with you into eternal oblivion.

There was a beautiful memorial service tonight. One of my friends afterward asked me, "Why did they say that death is our enemy?" I explained that this was the classical Christian belief about death--that the last enemy to be defeated by Christ is death itself. But, he countered, if we get to live forever, then what is the point of this life? I told him he could believe what he wanted, but that there really are only two options: either everything we are, everything we have, and everything we love will be swallowed up by death and amount to nothing, or they will have an everlasting place because of God's redemptive power. He sounded skeptical, but dropped the subject.

The insanity of the modern era is this: thinking that this life is all we have, we value it only as it exists now. No wonder we are always worried about getting old. No wonder we worry about having perfect bodies, perfect jobs, perfect houses, perfect relationships. And no wonder we can't stop what we're doing to acknowledge that human life is more valuable than any of this.

As for me, I am a hypocrite in all of this. Or perhaps I am merely a pawn controlled by the big machine. I continue on, talking with my friends about nothing in particular, doing my mathematics, continuing to crank out research, a cog in the wheel. For some reason I just can't wrest myself from my routine.

Really, I'm the most insane one of all. I glimpse my own insanity and I write it down for the whole world to see. I air my most personal and heart-felt emotions about death in a place where billions of people I don't even know can feel free to read it.

And yet why should I hold back from all the billions of people of the world? Every one of them is valuable. Each life means so much more than all my activity ever could.

Matt loved to take pictures. At the memorial service, they displayed a number of his photographs on the walls. I went over to them to stare at them. How amazing is it that a human being will see something and take the time to photograph it? Beads of water lying on a blade of grass; snow lying on a statue of Thomas Jefferson; a curtain hanging partially open. There are some things just worth staring at. Not for anything it's doing, just for what it is.

Human life is like that. Human life is worth staring at. It isn't about how much you're able to do in this brief life. If you feel you must fill your life with activity, then at least don't just let all of your activity be to feed some machine--don't sacrifice your life on the altar of routine. But if I could make one desperate plea to all of you in this great big world of ours, it would be this--stop. Look. Life is more than all these things you choose to fill it with.

Don't succumb to the insanity of this world.
Life is too precious. Modern people are afraid to look squarely at death because they are afraid to look squarely at life. Life is too beautiful for us. If we don't find life beautiful, then how can we truly live?

This has been the question haunting me as I go about my insane routine, day in and day out, during a week that should be marked by stopping, grieving, reflecting, hoping...

All I can do is pray that I have strength to make tomorrow more like today should have been, and that the redemption of the world is near. My heart still clings to this hope: that the dead will be raised, and we will see life in all its beauty, forever.

Matt, your life was, and is, valuable. You will rise again.

God save us all from the curse of death.

In the Name of Christ, Amen.

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