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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Everything Dies

Everything, and everybody, dies - yet somehow many of us seem to miss that point. I read a story about a shoe store here in Milwaukee that closed one of its branches after almost forty years. You would have thought someone lost a favorite Aunt, which was especially perplexing to me since another branch of the same store remains open in another part of town. It wasn't even as if a locally owned business was disappearing. Somehow, though, the author of the article couldn't pass up the opportunity to predict economic doom and gloom for the shops on this particular street. Knowing the area as I do, reports of its demise are a bit premature. More importantly, everything that is born eventually dies and every business that is opened eventually closes. There are no more Model T Ford dealers in business, very few horse drawn carriage repair shops continue to exist, and not much call for VHS rentals, either. It's the nature of things to pass away.

This week one of my daughter's classmates from grade school died in a car crash. He was driving while intoxicated, and from what I understand not much was left of his car. It has been interesting to look at his Facebook wall, as the people who knew him are all leaving him tributes, which is fitting. They also are expressing confidence that they will "see him again in heaven," or similar words. Of course, we know from church attendance data that the vast majority of the people expressing that certainty are not practicing Christians (Christianity being the faith that would express such a belief in that way). One of them promised to work on his dancing so that they could dance together when they meet again. You don't have to be a practicing Christian to express these beliefs, and I believe that most if not all of those expressing such sentiments were sincere. I can't help but wonder, though, if such beliefs are part of the system of denial of death in our culture, a denial that does not serve us well at all.

It's as if we want to convince ourselves that this twenty-five year old young man has just gone on an extended vacation and we will see him again when he returns. There's an unwillingness to engage in a serious way with the dangers involved in both substance abuse and driving while impaired. There's no open discussion about resolving to behave differently in the deceased's honor. Of course, his Facebook wall is not the place to have that discussion, but I know it's not happening anywhere. Their twenty-something invincibility continues unabated, even in the face of shocking evidence to the contrary, because in our culture nothing dies, not even a shoe store.

Working to change that trend will take a tremendous effort, and we will not succeed overnight. We have industries that have arisen - especially the long term care and funeral industries - to insulate us from death. We ship the old and infirm off to places where we do not have to see them or be confronted by the reality of their decline, and when they finally succumb to the effects of sickness, old age, and death we send them off to a makeup parlor that puts them in a nice padded box in such a way that they appear to just be sleeping. Is it any wonder that people believe the friend they lost will awaken from his nap in a dance hall awaiting their arrival? Is it any wonder we die unprepared? Most tragically of all, many of us die without ever having lived because we believe death is a universal law that doesn't apply to us. We need to wake up.

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