I don’t know exactly why most people maintain the false certainty that life is perpetual. We give little thought to the fact that at some point it will end. We are horrified to bring up the subject of death in casual conversation and tend not only to hide it, but to regard bringing it up as harmful.
One story has given me pause for thought on the subject. It was a 19th century Polish rabbi called Hofez Chaim. A man came from afar to consult him and was surprised that in the rabbi’s house there were only books, a table and a chair. “Where is your furniture?” he asked him. And the rabbi replied: “And where is yours?”. “I am just passing through”. “So am I“, replied the rabbi.
This story launches a serious and moderate appeal against our vain pretensions to stretch our existence and want to perpetuate it on the flimsy foundation of economic security, family well-being, the work project we have in our hands, our next holiday or even an extraordinary religious experience. But human longing goes beyond the prison of time or space. It opens up to eternity and to the infinite to which he is called. The present is undoubtedly real because we live in it, but it is transitory.
“Everything passes, know it“, says the wise man. We are dying to what we were a second ago. We are not as young as we were yesterday. Let us not look the other way when the first stigmata of decadence appear. Everything indicates that we are passing through, but we find it hard to accept our condition as pilgrims. We do not want to suffer, die and make the leap to resurrection.
Death is not palatable, of course, but we can learn to expect it and even to desire it, without giving in to masochism, as an athlete may desire the most rigorous training, because that alone is the path to victory.
The plan is to detach, to disengage. To understand that love and dedication to others necessarily entails dying. To love yes, but to die, we say to ourselves, what need do we have to die? Why death?
Material realities should not be traps that keep us from the truth that love and death are the two faces of a full life. When we give credence to the ephemeral and heed its demands, we discover that it always asks for the same thing: glory, self-affirmation, to occupy the centre, to possess… Everything that appears in our mind with a big appearance ends up tyrannising and oppressing us, preventing us from flying upwards. Yes, because although it is obvious, we often forget an elementary truth: “Do not worry when someone gets rich: when he dies he will take nothing with him” (Psalm 49, 17-18).
Juan Carlos cmf
(PHOTO: Brendan Church)