Dying: an Important Part of Life

In the months following a metastatic cancer diagnosis, anxious thoughts interjected themselves into my mind every five minutes of the day. The reality of unwanted weakness, joint pain and insomnia from chemotherapy demanded attention. Looking back, I willingly admit: the difficulties had value. I had to grieve the loss of familiar foods, favorite clothes, an enjoyable job and some routine activities. I had to consider my immortality. But now I am glad for those inconveniences, because the whole scary process kept bringing me back to face an ego that could no longer maintain its denials and inflated status. It finally had to surrender, allowing the coexisting, more authentic, “real me” to surface and occupy the driver’s seat of my person.

Reflecting on the larger reality and question of  human existence as if being viewed from a far away galaxy and, driven by the process of accepting my mortality, philosophies that had been mysteries to me as a young adult started to gain new clarity. The old view, from an ego position, had limited my understanding to a very, very small portion of the big picture. After facing my condition it occurred to me that the Creator of the vast universe into which we humans are born had a sequence in mind that started with the creation of planets and stars. The solar system was delicately designed with earth planet having just the right conditions for human life, long before human life emerged. It would be irrational, I decided, for the Creator to provide all of that, across so many eons, to give humans a place to live for such a tiny ‘moment’ in that big project, just to have it all end when they die.

The process reminds me of the space shuttle where a sophisticated rocket is designed, constructed, tested and launched for the purpose of delivering an enormously valuable payload into orbit. It took centuries of research and experimentation to bring that first lunar rocket to a Cape Canaveral launch pad, but for what?   …just to have a short flight during which the large booster section lights up the sky for a few minutes, only to fall uselessly into the sea? No, not at all. Compared to the mission history, that booster rocket’s life is a fleeting moment, but a moment necessary to allow the payload to escape the pull of gravity. The “lifetime” of the payload gives testimony to complex, long-standing work performed prior to the flight from earth, to the flight itself during which fuel is constantly diminished from fighting gravity, and to the adventurous destination too, as it finds its intended orbit. If the payload is to arrive at the destination, it can not cling to the booster section; it must completely break away and travel in space alone to guarantee success.

It seems God has a similar design for “human life.” We humans are created from dust, then “launched” at birth into our temporary position on this planet, then occupy adult bodies for a few short decades as participating observers of His plan. We learn, often the ‘hard way’ it seems, the value of relationship, authority, quality and priorities. We comprehend Jesus’ description of rebirth, accepting his offer to transition our consciousness from ego to soul, created in His image, eventually without need for a body. 

English burial services often include the saying, derived from the Bible’s Genesis 3:19, Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. I have been aware of the fact that all bodies return to dust from the time I was just a tyke, hiking with my dad who explained what would happen to a dead bird we came across. However, it did not occur to me then that all living things on this earthly life are simultaneously dying. 

Yes, death as we talk about it (or perhaps don’t talk about it) is an important part of life. It is a necessary factor in the sequence that reaches far before birth, yet also far ahead, into God’s eternal kingdom, “on earth, as it is in heaven.”

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Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”     Soren Kierkegaard

About hamiltonstation

I spent a few years as a small boat officer with the U.S. Navy in the Western Pacific, then worked 35 years as an automation engineer, followed by 8 years in a public high school as a special needs educator, 3 years as a kayak guide for a cruise ship on the Great Lakes, and currently in my 10th year as a ocean kayak guide for a large outdoor corporation in Maine. For 30 years, I have been volunteering in maximum security prisons, helping inmates with literacy, developing of the spiritual side of personality, and learning mature social skills - all to eventually assist with their future re-integration into society. My wife and I have 2 adult children, currently live near the New England coast and are avid sea kayakers.
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