THE TRUTH ABOUT DEATH
"People have not learned to live, who have not learned to die." Jim Elliot
Kisa Gotami, the wife of a rich man, was the mother of a fine-looking little boy, whom she loved dearly. He fell ill and died. Carrying the limp body of her beloved son, she went from person to person begging for help. Would someone do something to bring back her son to life? A kind person suggested that she meet The Budha. Patiently listening to her tale of sorrow, The Budha told her to fetch a mustard seed. But he placed a condition on the errand - the mustard seed had to be obtained from a house that had not known death. The hopeful mother went from door to door. Not one house could help her, because Death had visited every one of them. After much pleading and some thinking, she returned to The Budha, a reconciled woman. She learned that no one escaped death; not even children. In a way, confirming Gotami's finding, Jim Elliot, the Christian Missionary, preaching at funeral of his own young son, said: "God is not populating heaven, just with old men". Children also figure in God's plan.
Grandparents die; parents die; children die. How do we react? Are we devastated by the loss? Do we find it impossible to walk away from the ruins of a world that crashes around us? When we view death as a disaster, our children also will be at odds with it. However, if we have the good sense and courage to come to terms with death, our children will live without a morbid fear of it. So far we taught our children how to live; now, we shall teach them how to face death with equanimity.
Strickland Gillilan tells the story of a man and his much loved daughter, who died.
In a dream the man sees a procession of children before the Throne of God. Their candles are burning bright. Only one child has a problem keeping her candle burning.
He looks hard and finds that the child is his daughter. He rushes to her to find out why she has trouble with her candle. She says that her attempts to keep the candle burning are doused by his tears. The man wakes up in a sweat. He realizes that it was only a dream, but pledges immediately not to waste his life in tears. To lift the pall of sadness that death lets fall on people, expressions like, 'the king is dead; long live the king', and,'the show must go on', were coined. They state the case in a matter-of-fact way. Steve Jobs, who had more than one close encounter with Death, conveys the same thought in a more acceptable way: "When I was seventeen, I read a quote that went something like this, 'if you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll certainly be right'. It made an impression on me, and since then
I have looked into the mirror every morning and asked myself, 'if today were the last of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do?' And when the answer has been 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked".
In the context of Steve Job's reflection, we can conclude with Douglas MacArthur: "Only those are fit to live, who are not afraid to die". Philip, father of Alexander the Great, had a peculiar way of reminding himself of death. A servant at the Palace faced him every morning with the greeting: "Philip, remember that you must die". We do not have to go to such lengths to remind ourselves that death is certain. All we need to understand is the truth - death is the beginning of eternal life. Most religions teach that there is life after death. When we are convinced of the eternal life to follow the short life here, our priorities could change. Our way of life could be different.
Not many moths ago, a plane from Brazil to France crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. There were no survivors. A few weeks later, a Yemeni Airbus flight with 153 on board crashed into the Indian Ocean. Only one girl, in her teens, survived. Should she not ask herself: "Why did I survive? Is there a purpose in the rest of my life?" In truth, we all have to ask ourselves a question every morning: "Why am I alive today,
when so many who went to bed yesterday have not been given the gift of a new day? What do I have to do today that will make a difference?" The more we understand the gift of life, the less we will fear its end. The more fruitful our lives, the greater the satisfaction in living it. When it ends, after a short or long term, we can say with eternal gratitude: "I thank God for a full and happy life".
Instead of doing that, we busy ourselves chasing wealth, power, fame and possessions. We carry on this hunt at the cost of others, smug in the accumulation that we can count. But when death comes knocking, we cannot conceal a thing in our hands. We will have to go empty handed. Aware of this truth, Alexander the Great left orders that when he would be carried on his last journey, his empty hands would stick out. None of his conquests would go with him.
There is a ring of finality to the words of Saint Teresa of Avila(Spain): "Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes except God".