Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A mystery

At the Touchstone Magazine blog, Anthony Esolen posts some very powerful reflections on the death of his mother-in-law, and the Christian perspective on death. Some of it resonated very powerfully, and hit very close to home.
I know that in many places it's still a common enough experience to watch someone die. I've seen it happen twice, and I guess I'd be content to go on with my life and never see it again. Do people ever grow accustomed to it? I don't know. It was a profound mystery; at one moment, she lay in bed, breathing slowly and quietly; if she was doing nothing else, she was being. And then there was no "she," not in this world of time and change.
I really do not want to share too much about my own grief on here, more than I have. But this is almost exactly how I described watching my father die. And there is no better (no worse?) way to describe it than to say that it is a mystery, indeed, a profound one.

There is so much around me and in me that screams, "death is the end." Full stop. Off thayi gaya as one says in colloquial Gujarati, with unsentimental finality. "He/she was switched off." Pati gayu, one says pragmatically about something that just ended. "It's over."

My father was not a Christian. He was part of that idealistic generation, coming of age as the new nation was born, that harbors a deep suspicion of things religious. A suspicion that is often quite well-founded.

There is no part of me really that is tortured about whether he's "in heaven." This mystery is really a lot wider and more profound than that. I can barely fathom what just occurred.

Esolen goes on to write beautifully about the Resurrection, and about the deep love of God the Father. It's stuff that I believe in, deeply. And it's comforting.

Paradoxically, starting tomorrow, and for the next forty odd days, the Christian world will turn and focus on one of the mysteries at the heart of things. That, indeed, in order to live, to truly live, one must die. "Unless a grain of wheat should die, it remains but a grain of wheat." [A few weeks before he died, my father picked up a copy of Newman's writings that I was reading, and opened to a page where this line from St. John was quoted. We had a brief, but intense, and all-to-rare, discussion of matters religious.] But this death is the death of the Cross, which is at the same time the Tree of Life.

A profound mystery.

May the Lord have mercy on us as we start our Lenten journey.

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