Death (not taxes)

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Mel told me I could write this post if it was not all doom gloom doom gloom, so I’m going to try to acquiesce to her request.

Have you all heard that terrible country song, “Live like you were dying'” or something similar?  The guy goes skydivin’, Rocky Mountain climbin’, 3.7 seconds and grew a full length fu-manchu!  I hate that song.  It gets stuck in my head and makes me think about every day ticking off a bucket list.  I’m not saying it’s a bad song, just that I don’t like it.  My perspective is a little different than this guy’s, so maybe that is why.  51UvescPE6L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Why don’t I share my perspective with you all??

Death is a funny thing.  It is a loss, both of the person dying and those people that person was around and close to.  Family, friends, co-workers, friends made through common interests, etc.  The idea of loss for the dying person also is huge – “I’ll never get to do X…”  Tolkien’s poem captures that, reflecting on Bilbo in his advanced age realizing he won’t get to do things… and there is a second part.  That’s why people have bucket lists of things to do before they die.  Skydivin’.  Etc.

For me, death is extremely present – ALS has made me weaker in ways I never expected.  It’s quite possible that I fall down the stairs tomorrow.  Or slip in the shower.  Or fall off the bed (again).  Or choke on a soda or coffee at work and no one knows what to do.  It’s really right there in front of me, and what I think about isn’t “oh did I grow a fu-manchu in my life?”  No, it’s, “are my kids taken care of?  Is Mel going to be ok?  Did I leave enough for her, does she know I love her and want her to be happy?  Do my kids know that I love them?”  That’s my bucket list.  What does that say about me?  Am I just a big coward?3d8ea1f244e250ee89de984741fe2cb8

Death is not scary for me in the sense of the unknown.  It scary to me if it is unexpected, so I try to confess my sins often (although I have a permanent fear that I’m in mortal sin. can anyone explain that one???)  It’s scary if I die and Mel isn’t set.  As I sit here with a glass of Chartreuse, thinking about the upcoming trip to Lourdes, my biggest fear is not having prepared Mel for the loss.

Ok, so now for the positive.  “Death, where is your sting?!  Where is your victory?”  It’s not there.  I know what awaits for me after death and I’m comforted by it.  The battle has already been won.  There awaits great victory for me in heaven, if I’ve lived according to the will of God!  There is something incredibly peaceful about knowing that the race will finish, for some sooner than others, and that please God I will have fought the good fight, I will have kept the faith.  (Thank you St. Paul!)images

So what about a bucket list?  Is it wrong?  No, it’s not wrong.  Is the song bad?  No, it’s not bad!  (It’s just annoying). I think the song does touch on real things we need to focus on – look deeper, speak clearer, give forgiveness.  And I’d add, hug your kids, spend time with them, take time from work to go on a date with your other, go to mass, say the rosary, give to the poor, pray.  Be present in the NOW.  It’s really hard to do, especially if you are staring death in the face but it’s what we are supposed  to do everyday.  You see, we have to live like the world will end tomorrow, and that it will go on for a million years.  We have to think the long game while also preparing to die tonight.  It’s the Judeo-Christian  paradox of life!  (Thank you, Lanky Guys Podcast for that insight!)

So, as I sit beside the fire and think, with my glass of Chartreuse, I leave with this thought.  I think that I shall take care as best I can to be careful in the day-to-day.  But I also will be ready if it happens.  My goal is to embrace the now as much as I can and not dwell on the ideas of loss that may come – I have had a full life, with many blessings.  I need to hug 5 of those blessings more!

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

1 thought on “Death (not taxes)”

  1. Beautiful, Joe, and right on point. Love the quotes, both of them. I have similar thoughts when I think of a shorter mortality…not regrets of that bucket list, but regrets of the harsh word, that missed hug, the times I opted to not be in the moment with my family.


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