Two dear friends recently died, one in New York and one in Montreal. Both had serious illnesses for more than 20 years, yet their deaths came as a shock.
How is it possible that they’re no longer here on earth? Even though their lives were not a part of my everyday life, they were a strong presence. Both played formative roles in my own development, impressing me with their own brand of vitality and character.
I’m grateful that I have such strong memories and don’t want to lose that sense of intimacy. How can they not be here when those memories are so vibrant? I appreciate that for some, that sense of remembrance signifies some kind of immortality or of lingering existence of one’s loved ones. But in truth, while we hold on to those memories, we no longer can make memories together. It’s not easy to find comfort for that loss.
Facing death is difficult for all of us. It’s so final, so absolute and so universal. In some ways, all our lives can be viewed from the perspective of death: we are born as an organism on its way toward death. Our body grows, but that growth must end in death. There’s no other end possible. Creation ultimately leads to death.
This is a very bleak view of life that most cannot maintain. It offers us no solace and no constructive mode of living. I don’t feel my friends’ lives were so desolate. They were challenged by life, but not destroyed by it. On the contrary, I’m sad because their lives were so full of love and living. There was so much goodness, friends and family. Death came too soon.
We humans know there is death. We even accept it. It just often comes too soon. We don’t turn toward death eagerly, because we’re open to life. For the brief moments we do have on this earth, we’re dedicated to the creative processes of living – to friends and family, to love and giving.
Our biological existence may move from birth to death, but our moral and existential being acts within life. As commanded in the Bible, we as humans choose life. That should be our focus and our outlook for as long as we can live it.
I write this column at the bedside of my new granddaughter. Surrounded by life and death, let’s choose life!