A poetic tribute to a lady who died too young, and subsequent ruminations on death.
That Death Conundrum: A Taking or a Release?
“He whom the gods love dies young….”
– Plautus, Bacchides, IV, 7, 18.
The old grim reaper paid me a visit of sorts again this week. Well, you might say he prompted my receiving an e-mail regarding his activities of late. A distant cousin, Terri Lusk of Washington, Utah, was hit by a truck while training for a marathon on July 25 and died later that morning at the hospital. Terri was 48, the beloved mother of six children and grandmother of two, a popular teacher, coach and pillar of the Saint George community. My wife and I had met Terri, her husband Kenneth, and family many years ago when vacationing through Utah. Bright, vivacious, caring, she was indeed a true gem to so many.
The unexpected message concerning Terri’s death, conveyed by another distant relative, thrust me into a state of somber reflection. Why does it appear that so often when we hear of a tragic, premature death, it’s the “good” that have been taken amid a world teeming with iniquitous reprobates and scoundrels seemingly much more deserving of an early exit? Where’s the “cosmic” justice in the good and the innocent dying young? What moral accounting computes such a tally?
In retrospect, looking back on this blog series, I’ve addressed the topic of death a great deal from several different perspectives–the near death experience, a book review touching on reincarnation, two short stories with death as the main theme, a poem alluding to same–and yet for me its essence still remains an unresolved mystery. What frame of reference must we adopt to best grapple with assigning this universal phenomenon rational meaning?
Terri was a Mormon and within that faith’s doctrine, families are seen as eternally together, both here and in the hereafter. Only mere earthly years define a “short” temporary separation among loved ones. Nothing is lost, only the worldly path altered a bit. That must be a great source of comfort to those subscribing to that view. But what about those who eschew any religious attachment?
An agnostic, like my protagonist in the story “The Snow Field,” must confront death head on, existentially. And fashion and define the pain in his own individual way. Even some ancient Jewish thought perceived death as a total cessation with merely elements of the individual surviving only through his lineage. Interestingly, that would also match closely with the view some atheists adopt. But personally I find little to assuage the emotions in such trends of thinking nor to address that timeless human fascination and philosophic pursuit regarding matters of “spirit” and “soul.” And as my earlier discussion of the NDE and Langenberg’s book Quantum God demonstrate, that pursuit shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.
So for the sake of a little speculation, let’s grant for the moment that we humans just may possess an eternal soul. And that, indeed, such a soul has a purpose, most likely that being to learn and grow in the wisdom of love. Perhaps even through several lifetimes. Then to move on to a “higher plane.” A great many wise gurus throughout history have espoused such a vision. However, specifically regarding death, what would such a philosophic view imply?
Might we then see death as but a recurring transition, the opposite partner of birth? Death becomes something more of a release from a present accomplished task than a taking away from a single cherished state. Death is an advancement, not an end. And might we genuinely pose that ancient question in a whole new light, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Has not, thereby, our dread of death been “conquered”?
Nevertheless, what implications does that hold for the good, the bad and the “left behind”? Well, just suppose those like Terri have progressed spiritually in this life to the point of fulfilling their “present life contract,” so to speak. Of achieving the soul’s assigned goal. And now they’re released to pursue a new and higher purpose, even a saintly one–either beyond or back here in some future incarnation. Might not the case be that those we observe of lesser moral fiber are being granted more time on the earthly plane to redeem themselves and master their lessons more fully before their inevitable recall? An extension of time to retake a few classes, one might say? If the great love and compassion of a Supreme Source is factored into the equation of being, that seems a reasonable supposition.
In any event, such particulars will only be revealed to us humans in the fullness of time. But until then I’ll opt for a “soul-and-purpose” concept. And congratulate Terri upon her “graduation” while there are others around us wading in the muck still struggling with the learning process. Many years ago I wrote a poem titled “Tethered Balloons” describing the leaving of this life, and I now include that poem below. And dedicate it to Terri. It’s my hope, upon my own leave taking, that I may be deemed sufficiently worthy of meeting her once again, on a “higher plane,” on the other side. Peace be with you, Terri.
For Terri Lusk
How like we are—
afloat in lights and applause—
to tethered balloons
of delicate skin stretched taut
about empty space.
Tied to the illusion
of nights and days
by threads of grace,
we bob and waft
on an air
of roars and whimpers.
We trust our state
to be constant
as the clock’s hands,
given like the moon and stars.
We take for granted tomorrow
as if time were stone,
only to rock in bewilderment
at the sudden gentleness
at the sailing upward then,
above it all,
into gospels of freedom,
up and higher still to drift,
beyond the cool, soft grays
drawn, without provision,
to a boundless embrace
where tomorrow and yesterday
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