Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mortality on My Mind

Senator Kennedy has died. Hearing the news got the gears turning in mind again about my own mortality. I've actually been thinking about dying for a very long time. I remember a day when I was five or maybe six. For some reason or other it suddenly clicked, "I am going to die someday." I got very upset and started to cry. When my parents asked what was wrong I declared emphatically that I did not want to die. Being parents, they tried to reassure me that I was too young to worry about that. What else could they say?

In my early twenties I had a moment where I was seized with anxiety, with the overwhelming sense that I was wasting my life. That adolescent sense of invulnerability drained out of me in a cold sweat. I said goodbye to childish things and bent myself to the task of growing up, of becoming a man because I knew that I did not have unlimited time to do so. The cosmic clock was ticking and I did not know how close to midnight it might be.

As I've gotten older, two significant ceremonies have become more and more frequent, weddings and funerals. Whenever I attend a funeral, I'm reminded that death is the only certain thing in life. I'm reminded that everyone I know and love (and others I don't love as much as a should) is going to die. I scan the faces of fellow mourners and think, "eventually, I will be standing over their grave or they will be standing over mine". I wonder when and how my own end will come. I wonder what my funeral will be like, who will be there, what will they say? But most of all I wonder, will I have spent my time well? Will I have given my all for God and laid down my life on the field of service and sacrifice? Will I have made a difference in this world or just left a big carbon footprint?

"Now is the time to serve, now is the time to be on fire. Know ye the value of this chance, this favourable juncture that is limitless grace, ere it slip from your hands. Soon will our handful of days, our vanishing life, be gone, and we shall pass, empty-handed, into the hollow that is dug for those who speak no more; wherefore must we bind our hearts to the manifest Beauty, and cling to the lifeline that faileth never. We must gird ourselves for service, kindle love's flame, and burn away in its heat. We must loose our tongues till we set the wide world's heart afire, and with bright rays of guidance blot out the armies of the night, and then, for His sake, on the field of sacrifice, fling down our lives. Thus let us scatter over every people the treasured gems of the recognition of God, and with the decisive blade of the tongue, and the sure arrows of knowledge, let us defeat the hosts of self and passion, and hasten onward to the site of martyrdom, to the place where we die for the Lord. And then, with flying flags, and to the beat of drums, let us pass into the realm of the All-Glorious, and join the Company on high. Well is it with the doers of great deeds." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 266)