Is it better to know death is coming for you?
I’m not sure how many readers spend time in the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, but it contains a phrase that came to mind this morning: “in the midst of life we are in death”.
Three deaths made the news yesterday: the King of Pop, the blonde Charlie’s angel, and a Sydney truckdriver.
Michael Jackson seems to have suffered a medication-related heart attack just before his sold-out revival tour; possibly because of it. Farrah Fawcett Majors had been battling cancer for years, and had last rites administered to her yesterday as she prepared for the Beyond.
But the truckie, although in his sixties, was just doing his job, driving along Milperra Rd near Bankstown Airport, when suddenly his life was ended by a bullet he probably didn’t even see coming.
It is a great gift to see your own death coming. Of course, all except the most idiotic of us know that it is somewhere around the corner, but it’s surprising how resistant we can be to believing in our own mortality.
And, to the great frustration of those responsible for the news cycle, death is not interested in celebrity.
Two celebrity deaths in one day is just wasted column space; but three is irresponsible. On the day JFK was assassinated (November 22, 1963) both Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World) and C.S. Lewis (The Narnia Chronicles) also met their Maker, but who would have known it?
On that day, worldviews come into focus. You believe in life after death? OK, here it comes. You believe you are just neurons synapsing then stopping? OK, goodbye.
Reality has taken over from speculation.
The American poet Wallace Stevens, having spent his life moving towards the conclusion that the human imagination is all we can know of God, baulked in his final weeks of life and allegedly was baptized into Christianity on his deathbed.
One of his final poems captures for me why he might have done this; it’s aptly titled ‘As You Leave the Room’: “I wonder, have I lived a skeleton’s life/As a disbeliever in reality?”
Pray that you get to contemplate your own death. Pray to be Wallace Stevens or Farrah Fawcett, not Jacko or a poor 66 year-old truckie driving past a KFC around midnight.
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