It is difficult for me these days to contemplate the world that is being remade. The U.S. has gone from a leader of the free world, to a near pariah. Leadership displayed as bluster, ignorance, prejudice and just plain nastiness holds the center stage.
Of late, I find I can barely listen to the news. When I drive, I frequently have on satellite radio--NPR, or MSNBC, or CNN. But of late I can't bear to hear the drumbeat of destruction and the endless panel conversations about what it all means. What does it mean anyway?
OK--so why the title of my post? Death be not proud. Of course, the line is the opening for John Donne's Holy Sonnet 10.* You can read the whole poem at the close of this entry.
So, what do I do instead of listen to the depressing news of the day? I sometimes think about death. Lest you think me morbid or focused on a depressing subject, not so. Every day, when I walk our dog, we go to a cemetery two blocks away from where we live. As I walk along, I frequently read the grave markers. I find myself doing the math of a lifespan in my head. Some are very short--mere weeks for babies who are born and then die. Some are several years--I do not know the circumstances, but there are possible explanations--a childhood disease, or maybe an accident. Others that are several decades long--say in the 20s or 30s--offer another set of possibilities: killed in combat maybe. Finally, there are the markers that denote a long life span. The common element for all, of course, is the inevitability of death.
So, why has this subject seized my mind? Well, perhaps it is because a friend of mine is dying. She is not a close friend, but a friend nevertheless. She reached a point in her treatment for cancer when medicine could no longer "cure" her. So, she returned home and has been put on a diet which includes NO solids. Understandably, her death is imminent, even though she does not know the day.
Several days ago she posted on FaceBook "I'm still alive today... Friends visited so we have had a lovely day of conversations and a lot of puking actually. But it beats the alternative and we are laughing a lot."
Three weeks ago she posted this: "Sunday I had a very small group of close friends from church and other venues in my home for a Service of Transition, Anointing, and Healing. Padre did a service that was beautiful and so helpful for me as I was anointed like the dead are for burial and friends laid hands on me to pray. They covered me first in a funeral pall. Afterwards we celebrated the eucharist together. I wanted this particular blessing to mark that my upcoming death will be a sacred and holy transition. . .These past two weeks have been filled with notes of affirmation and wonderful shared memories helping me understand that I have lived my life as faithfully as I could, and spent myself in service to others as much as I could. I am rich in memories and friends around the world. Thanks be to God."
Clearly, this woman' approach to death is very much in keeping with the sentiment of John Donne's Holy Sonnet 10.
And how does it connect in any way to the news of the day? Just this. Nothing is eternal in this world. Powers and rulers and kingdoms all pass. History shows us that no human effort has lasted forever. Empires rise, empires fall. Rulers come, rulers go. However, John Donne's assertion is that even though death rules over all, death itself cannot destroy eternity.
Heavy thoughts, indeed. OK--time for my daily walk with our dog to the cemetery.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy’or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
by John Donne, 1572 - 1631