Is death kind? Sometimes, it comes slowly, imperceptibly; you look up from the book you are reading, and he’s gone. He’s lain on the bed breathing shallowly for days. You wonder, when he slept, did he dream? Of what do you dream when you’re dying? Sometimes, death comes quickly, unexpectedly, in a van returning from a church retreat. Does death bestow any kindness on its victims before it stops their breath?
Was song or laughter still caught in the throats of the Baptists in the van when death crushed them? Where is their song now? Did it flow into the gurgle of nearby creeks or float up to mingle among the leaves of oaks? Were the victims blessed with one more grace before leaving, perhaps? A glimpse of blue sky. The red of a cardinal’s wing. The warmth of their friends’ hands? Did death allow them any comfort as they left?
What happens to a man in a war when one minute he’s charging with ferocity at an enemy, and the next he’s lying dead on the ground? Where did his passion go when the bullets hit? Where too his hopes, loves, and dreams? Are they coagulating in his blood and soaking with it into the earth? Or, as the fight goes on without him, do they float, lifting above his body in the breeze, catching thermals and rising to flow through hawks’ wings?
I’ve been thinking a lot about death since my dad passed away in January. I’ve been looking around me to see and hear, feel and breathe the grace of being alive. If people’s hopes and dreams and laughter and song are indeed floating among leaves–swaying and leaving dappled, sunlit patterns on the earth–if their passions and joys have soaked into the ground beneath our feet, then we must tread carefully and reverently. We must look and listen for them, and when our turn comes, may death escort us kindly to join them among the trees, in the air, in the rivers, and within the good earth.