by Kenneth Justice
~ “I dream about dying all the time; its something I think about nearly every day” she said.
I was sitting in a little restaurant near the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica last week when one of the people at my table brought up the subject of death, “I dream about dying all the time” she said, “Sometimes the thought of dying will pop up during the day as well and I’ll become fearful of getting into a car crash or dying in some other tragic way”
For most of my own life, death has been a constant thought that filled my dreams and plagued my waking hours. The thought of death always stirred massive amounts of fear within my mind and I can remember lying awake in my bed as a child and trembling from the fear of death. During my grade school years I can remember countless times that I would wake my father up in the middle-of-the-night to beg him to pray for me that I wouldn’t die. When I became a teen I was now ‘too old’ to wake up my father so I would sit would up late into the night, all alone, wondering if I were about to die.
I’ve often believed that it was the fire-and-brimstone sermons that I sat through for so much of my youth that led me to developing such a cumbersome fear of death. Its a heavy burden to put on a six year old kid that ‘if you don’t believe in god exactly the right way then you are doomed to a pit of everlasting fire where evil demons will gnaw at your flesh and torment your every moment for the rest of eternity’.
Was god’s love mentioned in the thousands of sermons I sat through during my childhood? Sure, but what do you think is most likely to fill up the imagination of a young child late at night as I was sitting in bed; the few minutes of ‘god’s love’ that the preacher referred to in the sermon, or the scary imagery of demons, torture, fire, darkness, and evil!
In 2008 my father died from cancer and although I initially thought that his death was going to perpetuate an even greater death-obsession within my thinking; the exact opposite occurred. Suddenly, even though I still thought about dying….I now became more concerned with living.
I had been fearful of death for so long that it had never occurred to me that all of my fear and worry wasn’t really aiding me in any way; I now began to realize that death will come, but so what, such is life. My father’s death helped me to see more clearly that death is inevitable and being afraid of it wasn’t helping me at all. Somehow, all that worry and fear that I had bottled up regarding death…..slowly began to fade away.
In Western Culture death is a subject that we don’t handle very well. Unlike other cultures, in Western Society death and dying are typically viewed with anxiety, trepidation, and fear. In the United States, death is something we hide-away in hospitals. We gather around hospital beds awkwardly, in white polished rooms that are so unnaturally different from our homes, as we say our last goodbye to our dying loved one.
When death is discussed in the media we can be sure what the headlines will look like;
—-) “The tragic death of a celebrity…”
—-) “Awful death of a mother in a car accident…”
—-) “Death toll climbs…”
Death is almost always portrayed in the negative. Even in much of the art world death is painted metaphorically as Winter; a time when vegetation is gone, the world is still, and the bitter cold ravishes the earth.
However……this morning as I woke up at 2 in the morning unable to sleep, I was stirred in my mind to write a simple sentence; death is beautiful.
My favorite American novelist Mark Twain wrote, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time“. I’ve read every single short story and novel of Twain’s that I’ve been able to get my hands on. He was an author who wrote frequently of death…..but in a very unusual fashion. Twain’s short stories about death were often happy, filled with his wit and humor, and most of all they exuded massive amounts of deeply introspective thoughts.
Death does not have to be something we fear. Although my childhood religious experience perpetuated long hours of sleepless nights as I grappled with the fear of death…..no matter how hard those preachers may have unintentionally tried; my faith in God was not shattered and now I see hope in the midst of death.
Death is beautiful. It is culmination of a live well lived. It is the next step from this journey that we each take and instead of filling us with sadness and anxiety; death gives us the opportunity to be thankful for life and the joy of living.
Perhaps many of my readers will find my words shallow and trite. Perhaps my thoughts surrounding the subject of death are nothing more than the ramblings of a loon……….but for now, death no longer fills me with fear; and I’m thankful for that very much.
I’m also thankful for coffee, which reminds me……
I’m currently on a national and worldwide tour of 100 coffee shops. My next stop is Atlanta on the first weekend of March. Check out my Website for more dates and locations.