Thursday, March 14, 2024

A Short Meditation on Death

The following, a meditation on the subject of death, is an article first published in my column for the Scunthorpe Telegraph (28 November, 2013):

There is a Season for Everything

Just as a glorious summer must be followed by a mellowing autumn and the ravages of winter, so to must the vigour and splendour of young life be followed by the imprecations of old age and, subsequently, inevitably and irrevocably, death. For, as Ecclesiastes 3:1-9 simply informs us, for everything there is a season, and just as there is a time to be born, so too is there a time to die.

Yet even within death, there is beauty, hope and comfort. ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O grave is your sting?’ The words of 1 Corinthians 15:55 confront and challenge the nemesis we all share, and many fear. Shakespeare grappled with the same sentiment in Sonnet V1; ‘Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart/Leaving thee living in posterity?’ For Shakespeare, children are one of the answers to the ravages of old age, for who can fear death if they are able to see younger versions of themselves living on even whilst death snatches at the breath of the parent? In the face of such posterity, how can death ever be the conqueror? A parent may die, but in the face of death, they live on through the breath, heart, mind and eyes of a son or daughter.

What promise, then, for the dying person, other than being assured of vicariously living through the lives of their offspring? Individual religions see death in slightly different ways. For most Christians, there is the promise of a life after death, in the company of God in Heaven, surrounded by the souls of long departed loved ones, and where pain and sin are no more. 

Muslims believe that this life is but a short trial in preparation for the next realm of existence. Buddhists take the view that death is not the end of existence. For a Buddhist, death is just the closing of a chapter, following which a new chapter immediately begins. One automatically follows the other; just as death is followed by re-birth. Hindhus believe that death is not a great misfortune and not final. It is just a natural process in a soul’s journey, by which it ‘reassembles its resources, adjusts its course and returns again to the earth to continue its journey’.

In his marvellous book, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran says that ‘life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one’. His whole chapter on the subject of death is worth reading, and has brought many people great comfort at times of deep distress and in the face of perceived adversity. Therein is a mine of treasures, but two more lines on the subject are particularly emotive: ‘For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? … And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance’. May it be just so.

[In Memoriam: Robert John Lawrence Fowler (1927 – 2013). May your breath now be free and your dance be joyful.]

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