Rummaging through some old journals this week while taking a measure of introspection, I came across the following in an entry from March 29th, 1990. I’ve cleaned it up a bit for publication, but it remains essentially the thought of my 29 year-old self. Reading old journals is a fascinating exercise in self-awareness, but I’m throwing them out, anyway…
Who has time to listen? Running around in hectic disarray, death edges closer to each of us by the minute, yet who has time to stop to listen? What would we hear if we did?
Common wisdom has it that we lead such frantic lives on account of a constant, oppressive sense that time is so short. I can no longer believe that. It seems to me these harried ways of ours reflect feeble and vain attempts to dissuade the inevitable. We busy ourselves in order to defy the inevitable, like a man fleeing from the sunset: he knows the sun is setting in the west, so he flees to the east to escape it, only to be caught all the more by surprise.
A man who takes the time, now, to slow down and enjoy the moment, which is our life as we live it now, must realize that he he may not have the time to do so later; whereas a man who won’t take the time now appears to be foolishly assuming that he will certainly have the time later. We’re not this frantically busy because life is so short, it would seem; rather we act like this because we want to believe we’ll go on forever, because we are so afraid of death.
But isn’t it quite strange to be so afraid of death? Death is the universal constant. All living beings – even those never born – suffer death. This death, physical death, is therefore more synonymous with life than is birth. Death’s singular inevitability makes it a rather strange object for our deepest fears. When we fear death, we fear certainty; when we fear certainty, we fear truth; when we fear truth, surely we fear God.
The psalmist said that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and certainly nobody suggests that we should leap willy-nilly to our own destruction, or pretend that death does not involve the demise of the self on some important level.
All the same, fearing the inevitable, and acting as if it were not knocking on our doors every moment, seems a futile exercise in self-delusion – it is as if we fear life itself, or at least the process of life. Better, it seems, to embrace death – not as a tool of destruction to inflict on oneself or those whose existence one finds intolerable, but as an enemy who surely will win the battle, yet not the war.
The way to defeat terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. The great modern activists of non-violence have demonstrated this clearly. If we allow it, death will terrorize us into failing to embrace life in the moment, although our busyness will never stay the executioners hand. But I suppose the steadiness necessary to look death in the eye without flinching or trying to hide from it requires a certain confidence that death will not have the last word, despite all appearances. So be it.