In Every Arrival, a Leavetaking
I promise to return to less morbid topics shortly, but after returning from my grandfather’s funeral, hearing of the passing of a member of our congregation’s mother, and continuing to watch the ongoing crisis in Haiti unfold, death is on my mind. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who once said that the ability (and burden) of being aware of and anticipating our own deaths is uniquely human. Regardless of how we may feel about it, death is something we have to learn to live with.
These words from Henri Nouwen’s A Letter of Consolation strike me as a realistic, yet gracious and hopeful assessment of how we might begin to do this:
Mortification—literally, “making death”—is what life is all about, a slow discovery of the mortality of all that is created so that we can appreciate its beauty without clinging to it as if it were a lasting possession. Our lives can indeed be seen as a process of becoming familiar with death, as a school in the art of dying. I do not mean this in a morbid way. On the contrary, when we see life constantly relativized by death, we can enjoy it for what it is: a free gift. The pictures, letters, and books of the past reveal life to us as a constant saying of farewell to beautiful places, good people, and wonderful experience…. All these times have passed by like friendly visitors, leaving [us] with the sad recognition of the shortness of life. In every arrival there is a leavetaking; in each one’s growing up there is a growing old; in every smile there is a tear; and in every success there is a loss. All living is dying and all celebration is mortification too.