Last week was emotionally difficult. Really difficult. Our family had several anniversaries and a memorial, not including the anniversary of September 11. (My wife was there in NYC.) The emotional difficulty didn’t show itself as a direct result of these deaths. It showed up as a cloud, an emotional disconnection and disability. But wanting to understand the source, I traced it back.
We say it’s the little things in life that get us down. But no. What gets us down is the way the little nagging things remind us that we have no control over the big thing, death; that’s what eats away at us little by little. We are often reminded about death: by seasons, departures, loss of resources, when things we own break down, miscommunications, loss of trust, etc.
I believe that all disappointments are really about the biggest disappointment of all, death. And we mostly refuse to look at that disappointment because it makes us question EVERYTHING. And that death goes unchecked, sneaking behind us every day, makes us very nervous about EVERYTHING.
The battle for survival (or maybe even for joy) is between the hope and will of “I will make this life of mine work” and the opposition, “Why bother? You and everyone else is going to die and it will mean nothing.”
The closer we are to death, the sooner this fight starts. And the more we feel its damaging force, the less motivated we are to really care about life, about others, about doing the right thing. “Why try so hard? It doesn’t really matter all that much. You are really all alone.”
The battle has begun.
There is a part of us that needs to strive and succeed in spite of the odds. That is the life force. Yet… it may arise in anger and be twisted by disappointment. The urge to succeed in spite of all odds against life makes men and women into devils with a vengeance. They gouge, cut, swindle, kill…and they do it without mercy or conscience. This is true evil because it acts like the good, the will to survive and make good on life, but it destroys as it flashes signs of success and achievement.
And those of us that cannot let that anger take hold… we
- cry, we
- despair, we
- apologize for living, we
- look for inspiring things to think or do, we
- search for outside distractions because the inside hurt is so painful, we
- practice art for the healing it will bring but never quite accomplishes, we
- attend church for someone else’s answers because our own don’t work anymore, we
- have meaningless sex and buy meaningless things in a bid for new life, we
- engage in risk-filled activities to prove our careless bravery in the face of hurt, we
- watch new episodes of TV and follow sports teams that promise a vicarious win, we
- laugh at people more stupid than we as a “win for me,” we
- avoid people that may require more care and involvement and would thereby make death more costly to us, we
- worship celebrities and gather heroes and successful products in our corner, tying us to a winner, we
- create products, games and fads that don’t require us to face the real enemy (the defeat and disability that come from death), we
- create and consume “silver bullets” that promise to kill our enemies once and for all (but leave the real enemy, the one we cannot face, death, untouched), we
- take drugs and alcohol to avoid the sense of doom that comes from death, we
- smoke for pleasure/ rebellion/ daring death, we
- focus on things we believe we can control (maybe money or people), we
- go through the motions of life and remember the good days…And later we
- die because we realize we just couldn’t win, no matter how hard we tried.
And once again, the battle of survival is lost.
- practice gratitude for what we have and are,
- work at understanding others and developing wisdom, and
- love without conditions as a way to make the effort of life easier.
These virtues are not the silver bullets some say they are. Gratitude, understanding and love have not yet stopped the ultimate enemy, but they do soften the destructive forces of death and motivate us in the direction of a more fulfilling life. And by becoming aware of this choice to choose life’s values and squarely face down death’s agenda, it enables me to choose life. Consider the alternative.