In the past two weeks, two sudden deaths have occurred that have been both in my community, and affecting my community.
And so the "death" question has come up again for me.
When I first heard of each death that was the first question that popped up in my mind. And so I quickly asked others who might have more information... "Why?"
And yet, I found that my question wasn't satiated with information.
"Why?" continued to be the question on my heart as I tried to wrap my mind around these young and sudden deaths. There is a deep and existential "why" that occurs when we realize the evanescence of life.
As Joan Chittister says in her book There is a Season, "The function of the death of the self is to throw a thousand question marks across the sky."
I won't try to answer the "death" question, because I don't have the answer. I think any attempt at answering is an insult to those experiencing the loss. It is a question that comes from deep loss, and that must simply be allowed to be.
So, if there is death, the kind of death that can come when we've just begun our life's work, or are just finishing our degrees... then my new question is a "life" question.
How can we live in a way that makes this brief life worthwhile?
The answer that I've discovered so far is this:
Life becomes worthwhile when we live not afraid of little deaths within ourselves.
If we live without a fear of personal deaths, we will enable ourselves to die a hundred little dyings that allow us to live more fully, and better the world.
We must be willing to risk ourselves for the betterment of the world - for ourselves, and those beyond us!
Joan Chittister also says this: "Tomorrow can triumph only when we can put to death in ourselves everything that is not life-giving today... We cannot rise until we are willing to die a little."
If my life is to end as swiftly as I have seen others end, there are many things within myself that I hope will have died already:
- My desire to please others which can compromise my convictions into conformity.
- My fear of rejection by those who I want to love and be loved by, that freezes me into passivity.
- My acceptance of social rules like "women need to be a certain way" or "you're too young to be significant in society", or "you need to be in a romantic relationship with one primary person in order to have value," which are all lies.
- My tendency to trust the laws and rules given to me by authority because I don't want to get in trouble.
I wonder if our country could be a better place if it too asked the question "What would we want to die within us before our country died?"
This reminds me of Ani Difranco's song Subdivision. In it she asks, "What will it take for my country to rise?"
Many little deaths. Many unknown paths being tread.
Courage to have the death of what is not life-giving be a part of life.
"Dying is one of life's most difficult processes, however.
Its demands sap the soul of all our old rationalizations,
all our well-used excuses for saying one thing but doing another,
all our pretenses at a goodness that is more social etiquette than social virtue.
It cuts us off from the very things that have brought us to the point of where we are.
When we begin to die to things in ourselves that once were time-honored and socially acceptable,
the danger is, of course, that when the process is over we will no longer even know ourselves...
Every little death we die turns us into something new and washes us up on the sunlit shore of a different psyche, a person called by the old name but unknown even to ourselves."
So, what do you want to die within you?
In the words of Socrates, "The unexamined life is not worth living."
And so I am brought back to the recent deaths of two beautiful people. What is so tragic about these deaths is that these women did not fear the little deaths within them. They defied social norms by working in prisons, and with the homeless. They loved others and pursued a better world.
They lived lives worth living, and for that I am grateful.