The reality of death really puts things in perspective. The important thing is to be with the dying person and his family. Or maybe to face the ultimate questions about human mortality and the meaning of life. Or maybe to spend time in prayer, connecting to God. What seems clear is that a lot of what I do day in day out doesn’t much matter in the grand scheme of things. Faced with death, who cares about dirty dishes in the sink or things like that?
On the other hand, life goes on. As it happened, our vestry was meeting only hours after I got the word. At the beginning of our meeting, I shared the news with the others. And then we had to carry on with our regularly scheduled business. The rest of the week was like that, as I moved back and forth between the reality of death and the ordinary tasks of life.
This is, of course, the human condition. The fact is, we will all die eventually, and we know that. In the meantime, we all have to live, which includes a whole host of tasks that are trivial in themselves but that go together to make up our ordinary lives. What was unusual for me last week was my acute awareness of both issues: ultimate meaning and daily tasks.
Most of the time, we ignore our own mortality and all the questions it raises about meaning and eternity. That, it seems to me, is unfortunate because it makes it possible for us to spend virtually our entire lives on trivia and distraction. We need, every once in a while, to pause to acknowledge the inevitability of death as a kind of reality check, as an opportunity to focus on what does really matter. But when death forces itself on our attention, those same trivial tasks that so often distract can become a blessing. They remind us that ordinary life keeps going. And so we carry on….