Last week I heard some sad news from my extended family. My cousin had gone out to Zimbabwe for her aunt’s funeral. While she was there, she was on a boating trip. She stood up at the wrong moment, fell over the side and hit her head on the propeller. She never recovered from the extensive brain damage, and a few days later her heart gave out. She was in her late twenties, recently married.
I was really shocked by the news. I had lost touch with her, and had only really known her as a child rather than as an adult. My memories of her are mainly of her giggling shyly with us at family get-togethers. She had a great sense of fun. As an adult, she cared deeply about her family, with whom she was very close, and she was a loyal and compassionate friend to many.
I felt saddened, mainly on behalf of my extended family rather than for myself. But most of all I felt shocked. We don’t expect these things to happen – not to people we know, not to us.
I secretly believe I am immortal. Well, not immortal exactly, but in control of how and when I will die.
That may sound strange, as someone who is more aware than the average person of their frailty and weakness. I was explaining to a friend, ‘I think I’m going to die, but of M.E. or of cancer or heart disease which comes as a result of M.E. – and in the future. I expect to have warning of it.’ In other words, I would quite like to be in control of my death, at least a little bit. Death should only come to those who are old and full of days, and softly, as a release from pain of illness.
I don’t expect to die in an accident. That wouldn’t be ‘fair’, when I already have something that could one day potentially kill me. Neither does it seem right or fair that my cousin should die in her twenties, whilst on holiday, and just undergoing bereavement herself. I feel like somehow we should be immune from death under these circumstances – we should have a temporary reprieve. But death does not submit to our negotiations.
In one sense it is good for me to feel like this, to be so resistant to death. Death is wrong.
Evolution, science, Buddhism would tell us that death is a natural process and not to be feared. The Bible calls it our last enemy. The reason that it feels so ‘unnatural’ is because it IS unnatural. We have eternity written in our hearts. Death came in through sin, it is not the way it was supposed to be.
On the other hand, it’s not good for me to feel invincible because it just isn’t true. Death is out of our control. I don’t like this fact. I like to think I can guard the safety of my loved ones, that I can plan long-term. I like to think I am in control of my life, that I am made of strong, indestructible stuff; shiny, hard metal, or enduring wood.
I am not. I am dust.
“For [The Lord] knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.” Ps 103:14
The truth is that our bodies are fragile, and our lives are fleeting.
Every so often, it is good for me to remember that I am dust. I am not in control of my life, and I am not in control of my death. Only God knows how long I will be here for. God is the author of my story within the Big Story and only He knows my ending.
I need to entrust my life – and my death – into the hands of the one who numbers the hairs on my head and measures out my days on this earth. I need to trust the one who takes the dust and breathes life into it, who creates and redeems and recreates. I need to trust the one who knows that I am dust.
Over to you:
- (I know this is a bit morbid but…) How helpful do you think it is to be aware of our own mortality? To what extent are you aware of yours?