Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Reluctant Reflections

I don’t know if it is just the time of year or the fact that a number of events have coincided, but in recent weeks I, and those close to me, have had cause to consider life and death. During this season we celebrate All Hallows Eve, All Saints and All Souls, which just about covers everyone who has passed away, at least in Christendom in the two thousand plus years AD. People seem to talk more about loved ones who have died, recounting their last days over the lunch table at work.

The tragic and sudden loss of a dear friend in the prime of life, just weeks ago, seems so unfair, so random and so cruel. And this past week, a close relative suddenly and without warning, developed a rare autoimmune blood disorder that ravished her platelets overnight and left her susceptible to a host of serious, life threatening complications. Though she is recovering, it was touch and go for a while. She had the “last rites” as the sacrament was once called, signifying the seriousness of the circumstances under which it is administered.

While this was all transpiring, we learned of a senseless and deadly accident on the Interstate involving two tractor trailers and several vehicles and leaving at least six dead and more seriously injured. It is the randomness and unforeseen nature of these happenings that make them so frightening, so unfair, so cruel.

These events remind us of how fragile life is. They shake us up. They cause us to pause. But rarely do they make us change course. Not that they should, but it is curious: in the face of death, we consider how trivial our pursuits really are, how silly in fact they look from the perspective of death. And yet we immediately return to our meetings and reports, our laundry and grocery shopping, watching TV and complaining about the price of gasoline. For most of us, life is a series of more or less ordinary activities.

Thornton Wilder in The Bridge of San Luis Rey explored the randomness of death. As I recall, the good Brother who investigated the lives of those who were “precipitated to their deaths” when the bridge broke sometime in 16th century Peru, came to no great revelations about the meaning or purpose of the event, about those who lost their lives or about life and death. I think we, in our reflections here and now have no more insightful conclusions to share. Life goes on.

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