Want to get “under the hood” to see how I connect the three concepts at the core of this blog? Read on. The following commentary is a reprint of my first post, from early August 2009…
WHAT’S DEATH GOT TO DO WITH IT?
At first glance, death looks like the opposite of life. Death ends love. Death seems to be the ultimate truth – we all die. But looks can be deceiving.
Death isn’t the opposite of life – instead, it’s simply the end of life. It’s not the destination – if it were, we’d all choose a different goal. Rather, it’s the “stop” to the “start” that begins with birth. It’s the final moment in our journey through this world.
DEATH – UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
My wife’s sister is dying. She’s suffered for almost two years with pancreatic cancer, an insidious disease that’s virtually 100% fatal (according to MayoClinic.com).
She now lies in a hospital bed – surrounded by friends and relatives who stay with her round the clock. Her path has been long and arduous, and her death isn’t unexpected. Now in her 50s, she’s lived longer than most people on our planet, but she’s considered young by US standards.
Others die much younger – or more suddenly. I recall the tragic story of a suburban Chicago man who came home to find his wife had murdered their three children. Their deaths seemed so unfair. They were so young – unable to defend themselves.
My sister-in-law was unable to defend herself against the cancer that ravaged her organs. But ultimately, death has its way. We can’t win – we only temporarily keep death at bay.
DEATH – LIFE’S GREAT MOTIVATOR
So what does this have to do with life, love and truth? Seemingly nothing, but the finality of death is what drives us to find meaning in life.
Death is what existentialists say drives us to despair, or “angst.” We know we’ll die, and this makes us search for meaning before life ends. In other words, knowing we’ll die creates a desire to know what is true and lasting. If our life ends “not with a bang, but a whimper” (to quote T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men”) , then what do we leave behind?
If life is simply a march to the grave, what’s the point?
Our knowledge of life’s finiteness leads us to discover what’s true for each of us. Life, and its ultimate end, fuels our search.
IN SEEKING TRUTH, WE FIND LOVE
Scientists can argue about what we know of the universe. But knowing about quarks, quasars, molecular biology, paleontology, or other scientific disciplines will never reveal their underlying truth. Ultimately, truth involves meaning.
What’s true for each of us is whatever gives our lives meaning while we’re on this planet. Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” That’s a much larger question than I can answer. But I can say what’s true for me. For me, life is about love.
This is the starting point, taken from our end point: we are born, we die, and in between, we find, share and experience love. Love is what gives life more than a sense of purpose. It’s much more. Love is what makes life worth living at all. To live without love seems to be the worst kind of living, it is as bad as dying.
LOVE IS A CHOICE
So what is love? Is it emotional feelings of tenderness (one of the “basic emotions” along with fear, anger and sadness)? Or is it more – something beyond emotions? Does love exist outside of our own feelings? Does love give life meaning? How?
For me, love is the common denominator that connects us as humans. It’s less emotion than volition – we love because we choose to love. Our feelings may be involuntary (often, we can’t control our feelings!), but we make choices intentionally.
We choose to act or not, to respond or not, to give or hold back, to share or be selfish, to care or not care. These are choices we make, sometimes in spite of our feelings. We make these choices because we are ethical beings, and make ethical evaluations of what is proper, fair, kind and so forth, based on some internal mechanism we often call our conscience. This basis in ethical decisions is what makes “love” more than simply an emotional state – it makes love an action.
CHOOSING LOVE = LIFE OVER DEATH
Much has been written about the value of love in life. For now, I can only introduce the subject. Like the meaning of life itself, the subject of love is too broad for one blog post.
But in the context of death, love is what makes death acceptable when we face it.
To have loved and known love allows us to accept our mortal beings.
LOVE – BEYOND LIFE
What does this mean for my sister-in-law as she awaits death? She may fear dying – many do. She may not feel ready to leave – most people want to live as long as possible. Regardless, her life will end soon.
But facing death, she is not alone. She’s surrounded by those who love her, and have been loved by her. Each is keeping her company, sharing what pastors refer to as a “ministry of presence” for the dying.
And when she is gone, her broad circle of family and friends will live on – her husband, her sister, her children, her grandchildren, her church community. Her memory continues in each of them. And by virtue of that, her love will continue in this world.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
Life, love and truth – death brings these into focus, because death confronts us and makes us ask the questions in a search for meaning. In some ways, death helps us create answers. It forces us to be honest with ourselves, because we know it waits for us.
How have you seen life, love and truth at work in our world? And what can you do to bring richer meaning to your time on this planet?
NOTE: The opinions shared on this site are those of the author, and are not intended to represent the opinions of any organization.