Sorry if you tuned in for something funny today- I had every intention of compiling a list of all the simple joys in life that I cherish. They’re definitely funny. But as I wrote, it seemed like the second act of a play. How could I explain the things that bring me joy without the bigger picture? Like the joy of the first flower bud opening after a long, cold winter; like seeing a dear friend’s face just before you’ve lost the details of every freckle and color in your memory. I think you may better understand my greatest joys with a glimpse of my greatest sorrow. Essentially, the truth in that tiny message: “I love you and I’m sorry we’re going to die.”
But now that simple phrase doesn’t seem so scary. I wonder if it means something like this…that any story- any good story anyway- without knowledge of its end, cannot really begin. To acknowledge this life is only a journey with an end…there is a weight there, some credibility. As if the writer tips his hat to death, pulls up his boots and carries on. The sorrow is only for things that pass away, namely, our time here.
Or another interpretation: are there really any two things on this earth worth saying more? “I love you” certainly speaks for itself. “I’m sorry we’re going to die”- this is the hang up. Sort of makes you uneasy. We don’t like thinking about death. The being sorry part is interesting, too. It certainly could have been, “I love you and one day we will die,” or, “I love you and I hope we never die,” or even, “I love you and I accept that everyone dies.” Honestly, it used to make me feel guilty. I thought we should not be sorry to die if we really believe our purpose is to return to God.
That may be true. I’m not sure. I hope I’m happy to go home, when the time comes. Half the time I’m yelling at God for making us stay on this crazy planet without Him for one second. To feel Him for even a moment, to know Him and want Him, and then feel torn from Him? Death, in this case, would only be joy. The fulfillment of our deepest purpose. I get that. But if we didn’t mourn losing our lives on earth at all…what would be the point? Is not saying, “I’m sorry we’re going to die” equal to saying, “I’m so happy we’re alive?” Does it not carry in its very meaning a respect for life and its beauty that perhaps only the light of death can reveal?
Regardless, this phrase came to me at a time I needed it most. Sophomore in college, thinking I had it all figured out as I slowly slipped, refusing to confront myself. I will never forget it. It helped me shed my despair instead for gratitude. Life no longer a ticking clock; death no longer a bomb waiting to explode at any minute. It reminded me it’s simply our final destination- and if we’re not enjoying the ride enough to be sorry when it’s over- we must not be paying attention.
I think He works with all of us much more gently than we work with ourselves. Like in simple phrases that can change our whole perspective when we only stop to listen. Whenever I’m in a slump, He sends me what I need. Recently I attended a memorial mass for a friend I lost five years ago, today, actually. I’m sure that’s the reason my joys slipped slowly from my fingers onto the page. This time of year is always hard for many people. But the priest’s homily convicted me the same way this little phrase did back in school.
He reflected on the experiences of those who have met death. Others can only describe the marked difference in them as depression. Perhaps, sometimes it is. I remember feeling as if I’d aged a thousand years in a moment. But often, he said, death simply changes a person’s entire framework and for them the whole world is changed. They now hold the weight of reality in its fragility and mortality. They realize the truth that this world is transitory. The only difference for people of faith is that we have hope. Hope that God made us because He loves us and one day we’ll make it back to Him; hope that those we’ve lost have simply gone before; hope that we can really enjoy this life. He challenged everyone to make our lives count, to get up every day because it glorifies our lost loved ones’ lives and God. It’s a responsibility really, once you’ve seen the truth, to choose to live so fully that you will in fact, be sad to go, and others will mourn your passing.
The same day a friend sent me an article that touched me from the New York Times. It’s called, “On Being Not Dead,” by Bill Hayes. Check it out, if you have time. It’s so nice to read your own feelings in someone else’s words. It’s like making a new friend with endless affirmations that you’re not, in fact, insane.
So here’s to beauty of our short, meaningful lives. I do love you. I’m sorry we’re going to die, so I pray for the strength and wisdom to recognize every joy, large and small.