Death Is Instructive

In light of recent obituaries in the press, this old post came to mind.

I have been to too many funerals in the last few years than I would care to experience.  They have been for family members; older friends and much younger friends; some children; colleagues and close friends; wives of church leaders and congregation members; parents of my friends, my own estranged dad – so so many than I would care to count.

I cry at weddings so it will be no surprise to discover that I weep at funerals whether I was close to the person or not. However, no matter the relationship I am always struck by two main things.

  1. Whenever tributes are read I am sometimes struck by how little I knew about the person who I was weeping over. How is it that I never knew x,y and z about this person – especially if we were in close proximity?  Like how didn’t  I know they were so caring or so giving or so wise or so funny or so weird or so interesting?  How is it that I spent so much time ‘around’ them but never know that?
  2. Regrets. If I had known that would be the last time I saw that person, I would have called.  I would have visited more.  I would have gone to that party they invited me to but was too tired to make.  I would have invited them to my home for dinner.  I would have told her I loved her.  I would have thanked them for being a great friend or supporting me through that tough period.  I would have spoken more from the heart and not had superficial conversations. I would have found out how they were really doing.  Were they happy? I would have made our last moment together count.  I wouldn’t have spent so much time being upset about that time they spoke to me in a funny way or how I felt they had treated me.  I would have kept in touch.  I would have taken more of an interest in them.  I would have ……..

Death is instructive

Indeed death is very instructive.  A funeral or a graveside is a great place to start if you want a reality check on how you are living your life.  There were a few successive years when it seemed like the only social functions I was attending were funerals.  I learnt a great deal about myself and the sort of person I wanted to be over those years.

Relationships are crucial to humanity. Even for introverts like mysel,  I willingly admit that I need relationships to keep me alive. The tragedy of life is that we take people around us for granted.  For some deluded reason we seem to think we will always be around; we will always have each other.  We take life for granted, that its electrodes will always course through our veins.  We all live in the eternal hope that we will be sustained with long life.  And so we treat each other like we will always meet tomorrow. However the reality is you never know when good bye means see you on another shore.  And so:

  • We talk to each other without listening because tomorrow we will talk again.
  • We go to bed angry, because tomorrow we will make up.
  • We are unkind to each other, because tomorrow we can make amends.
  • We withdraw our love from each other, because tomorrow they may hurt us again.
  • We do not sacrifice our time to spend it with someone because we can always go there tomorrow.
  • We do not pick up the phone to call because we will have more time to speak tomorrow.
  • We do not visit that person in hospital because tomorrow they’ll be out and we can go and see them at home.
  • We do not say sorry, because tomorrow we can be friends again.
  • We do not say thank you now because tomorrow ……………..
  • We do not say I love you, because they should know and tomorrow ………

I am not looking to score brownie points or fulfil some sort of sick righteousness, but because if, God forbid, I ever have to attend a funeral of someone I care for again, I do not want to regret not knowing them or experiencing a tangible relationship with them.  And so I call or text when people come to mind.  I ask if they are happy.  I say thank you for being there for me.  I laugh with them, cry with them.  I listen even when I feel they have not even thought about how I’m doing – I listen.  I travel longer distances now to share precious moments with them.  I reach out even when they haven’t asked after me in ages.  I bake them a cake to say I care. Just because – just because you never know if tomorrow will come, I’m trying to treat my relationships like there is no tomorrow.  Trying – it is an ongoing personal challenge.

One trick I have learnt, particularly when I feel I have been wronged by someone; I think, what if you hear tomorrow that this person has died, how would you feel?  If I feel remorse or regret and then I know, it’s not worth being upset over. Let it go.

Indeed death is instructive! Learn from it.

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Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

1 Corinthians 15:55 NLT
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? ”

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on the snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
-Mary Elizabeth Frye

Mandela Lit The Spark In My Bonfire Heart

There have been many eulogies, many tweets, many quotes and, no doubt, many blog posts over the days that have passed since Mandela’s death.

There’ll be many of us inspired and grateful for the sacrifice he made to humanity but there will be very few of us who end up being a light like he was. Many of us will go back to our ‘normal’ lives and resume our ‘normal’ jobs and ‘normal’ existence. Many of us would prefer to talk about him; very few will be challenged enough to lead like he did.

A line in Jame’s Blunt song Bonfire Heart resonates strongly with me –

everyone wants a flame, they don’t want to get burnt.

I find that line so profound. This is the legacy Mandela left me. He was willing to get burnt. He was willing to muddy his hands. He was willing to die. He proved his ideals and his words by his actions.

His death, for me, means that the cloud of witnesses to living for a cause swelled up. Witnesses to the extent that human beings will go to in order that the truth may prevail. Witnesses watching to see who else will be bold enough to join them. Bold enough to arrest the world with their beliefs. Bold enough to fight against inhumane acts, injustice and atrocities around the world.

We are surrounded by many ‘Mandela’s. Not all of them are celebrated on the world’s stage but they exist. They exist down the road from us in different walks of life. They exist in every day life. No one else has to know we are a ‘Mandela’ but the people we affect, the changes we instigate, will feel the effect. The benefit of our rising up, out of being normal, into being light bearers will be felt that many.

Mandela’s light is burnt out now. Other lights need to be lit in it’s place. I pray and hope that I am one of them.

Excerpts from Bonfire Heart
[Verse 2:]
This world is getting colder.
Strangers passing by
No one offers you a shoulder.
No one looks you in the eye.
But I’ve been looking at you
For a long, long time
Just trying to break through,
Trying to make you mine

Everybody wants a flame,
They don’t want to get burnt
Well, today is our turn

[Chorus]
Days like these lead to…
Nights like this lead to
Love like ours.
You light the spark in my bonfire heart.
People like us—we don’t
Need that much, just some-
One that starts,
Starts the spark in our bonfire hearts