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)


  1. Great post...growing up being a conscious effort-right on! Love that quotation, it has been a while since I read it.

  2. Anonymous9:57 AM

    This post must ring true for many. It certainly did for me. Don't you find parenthood can change your attitude too? I used to think that if I died, then, I died. It happens sometimes. I then had kids and find myself thinking that actually I really need to be here x number of years, minimum to complete the task of being there for their childhood and though I have no control over this, my attitude has changed. I supose I view parenthood as my major purpose. In my career I am much easier to replace in a matter of weeks.


  3. Thanks for your insight. Here is a prayer for the departed that I love. I like it because it reminds me of how I would like to live my life.

    O Thou Kind Lord!

    O Thou Kind Lord! This dearly cherished maidservant was attracted to Thee, and through reflection and discernment longed to attain Thy presence and enter Thy realms. With tearful eyes she fixed her gaze on the Kingdom of Mysteries. Many a night she spent in deep communion with Thee, and many a day she lived in intimate remembrance of Thee. At every morn she was mindful of Thee, and at every eve she centered her thoughts upon Thee. Like unto a singing nightingale she chanted Thy sacred verses, and like unto a mirror she sought to reflect Thy light.

    O Thou Forgiver of sins! Open Thou the way for this awakened soul to enter Thy Kingdom, and enable this bird, trained by Thy hand, to soar in the eternal rose garden. She is afire with longing to draw nigh unto Thee; enable her to attain Thy presence. She is distraught and distressed in separation from Thee; cause her to be admitted into Thy Heavenly Mansion.

    O Lord! We are sinners, but Thou art the Forgiver. We are submerged in the ocean of shortcomings, but Thou art the Pardoner; the Kind. Forgive our sins and bless us with Thine abundant grace. Grant us the privilege of beholding Thy Countenance, and give us the chalice of joy and bliss. We are captives of our own transgressions, and Thou art the King of bountiful favors. We are drowned in a sea of iniquities, and Thou art the Lord of infinite mercy. Thou art the Giver, the Glorious, the Eternal, the Bounteous; and Thou art the All-Gracious, the All-Merciful, the Omnipotent, He Who is the Bestower of gifts and the Forgiver of sins. Verily, Thou art He to Whom we turn for the remission of our failings, He Who is the Lord of Hosts.