Category Archives: death

Doing sensible and human things.

Not only is my mind typically scattered to the four winds, but it is also buffeted and pushed down and downright dominated by currents of thought — and current events — that somehow turn into raging hurricanes. But in my daily life, they are only passing and mental hurricanes, so when I read this quote from my daughter Pearl, I was freshly encouraged to call frequent moratoriums on the practice of wondering whether it might be a Viking or a bomb or a car wreck that will eventually make my loved ones suffer.

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

—C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948)

I also don’t need to spend (all my) time researching how bombs are made, or why the Vikings are so ruthless. Which is great, because it leaves more time for writing a chatty blog post to my friends, which is a very human thing to do, and I hope sensible as well.

September 1st really felt like the first day of fall! It hasn’t warmed up much since, but I’m sure we will get some hot days in the next weeks. My fig tree is absolutely loaded, and one of the four winds that my mind goes to is Preparation for Preserving. Get out the dehydrator, and gear up for the harvest: pushing through the perennials and bushes that surround my tree, and stooping under the low-hanging branches to extract the plump fruits, which are revealed by contrast with the big green layers when one by one they turn black.

I went to a nursery the other day to lay in a supply of echinacea purpurea plants to set out this month. Some areas of my “new” landscaping need reinvigorating after six years, and I have been longing for the standard echinacea species that I used to have. The white ones in my front garden are thriving, the multicolored ones in the back are not.

A friend who was moving across the country asked if I would like any of the potted plants he’d kept on his small patio. I evidently hadn’t paid much attention to them when I’d visited his duplex, because I said I’d take them all, and was quite surprised to end up with 37 pots of plants. Three of them are quite large, and two of those are gorgeous jade plants.

So — I have more lovelies in my garden to keep me company and give me good work to do. This morning I  went out to take pictures of a couple of them to post here, and ended up watering. Not one but two blue jays were visiting my property, and adding to the ambiance with their scratchy voices that make me feel for a moment that I am in the mountains. I noticed a ripe fig, and ate that as a fast-food breakfast. Then… a few ground cherries for dessert! Ah… September.

You can kill us, but…

Saint Justin the Philosopher and Martyr (AD 100-165; celeb. June 1st)

Justin is known in the Orthodox Church as Martyr Justin the Philosopher. In his youth he was unsatisfied with the philosophies of the day, and after becoming a Christian he opened a school of Christian philosophy. He refused to offer sacrifice to pagan gods and was beheaded along with the martyrs Justin, Chariton, Euelpistus, Hierax, Peonus, Valerian, Justus and Charito in 165. They are all commemorated on June 1.

You can kill us but you cannot do us any real harm.
-Saint Justin Martyr

The following gives the context of the above quote and is from his first apology in 150 A.D., which he wrote to the emperor Antoninus Pius in defense of innocent Christians:

“Reason dictates that persons who are truly noble and who love wisdom will honor and love only what is true. They will refuse to follow traditional viewpoints if those viewpoints are worthless…Instead, a person who genuinely loves truth must choose to do and speak what is true, even if he is threatened with death…I have not come to flatter you by this written petition, nor to impress you by my words. I have come to simply beg that you do not pass judgment until you have made an accurate and thorough investigation. Your investigation must be free of prejudice, hearsay, and any desire to please the superstitious crowds. As for us, we are convinced that you can inflict no lasting evil on us. We can only do it to ourselves by proving to be wicked people. You can kill us—but you cannot harm us.”

We remember together.

While the weather was of the wintry-spring sort, cold and rainy, we had a typical Memorial Day in several ways. There was barbecued meat and watermelon served on a red checkered tablecloth, and more importantly, a visit to the cemetery.

None of our friends or family are buried nearby, but not far away in Colorado Springs is the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery, which was the perfect place to visit today. The rain had stopped and it was only cloudy. We walked through the wet grass to read the markers on many graves, and we prayed.

As Liam and Laddie and I were straggling behind along the row of freshest graves, some from as recent as this month, we met a smiling woman leading a poodle, who asked us if we had seen the grave marker remembering an Air Force wife for being a “worrier.” Hmm…. no, we hadn’t! Was the worrier her relative? She said no. I quickly picked up on the fact that she was headed toward a different one of those recent graves, that of her husband who passed last year.

She began to tear up, and apologized for it. I asked if I could give her a hug, and learned that they had been married for 53 years. It was a sweet widows’ embrace that warmed us both on that drizzly morning.

While we had been wandering among the graves, we’d seen a soldier in camo going from grave to grave saluting smartly. After a time he began to play a pennywhistle, and to run through one battle or marching song after another. As we were leaving we sang along with his little flute, “God Bless America.”

Amen.

Not one atheist has plunged.

Below are encouraging words from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, prefaced by a few of my own Holy Saturday thoughts from six years ago, when I was freshly bereaved of my husband. I will leave that mercifully dated personal context as is, though it is for the more enduring words of Metropolitan Anthony that I am re-posting:

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I find myself in a phase of grief where from time to time during the day I feel acutely lost without my husband, the absence of him like a soreness in my spirit, an ache in the middle of my chest telling me that something is very wrong with me. Yes, something is wrong!! It’s death that is wrong – it’s wrong for us to be separated, for me to lose the heart of my heart. I have known this truth in my mind and for the world generally – now I understand it in my bones.

Crucifixion wikimediaBut as I’ve said here more than once already, I have the peaceful assurance that we are not absolutely separated, and a huge thankfulness as well that neither of us has been cut off from the Source of our life and existence. Sometimes we humans use the figure of speech that we will “die of grief,” because it feels that wrenching. But I know even as I am feeling it and railing against it, that I will live through it. This is all because Christ suffered for us, and he overcame death. My pain is like a pinprick compared to what Christ endured on our behalf. As for my husband, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”

These words from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom that I first read in God and Man two years ago are even more meaningful to me on this Holy Saturday:

When in the Apostles’ Creed we repeat “And he descended into Hell,” we very often think “That’s one of those expressions,” and we think of Dante and of the place where all those poor people are being tortured with such inventiveness by God.

But the Hell of the Old Testament has nothing to do with the spectacular hell of Christian literature. The Hell of the Old Testament is something infinitely more horrid; it is the place where God is not. It is the place of final dereliction; it’s the place where you continue to exist and there is no life left.

Harrowing-Dionisius

And when we say that he descended into Hell, we mean that having accepted the loss of God, to be one of us in the only major tragedy of that kind, he accepted also the consequences and goes to the place where God is not, to the place of final dereliction; and there, as ancient hymns put it, the Gates of Hell open to receive Him who was unconquered on earth and who now is conquered, a prisoner, and they receive this man who has accepted death in an immortal humanity, and Godlessness without sin, and they are confronted with the divine presence because he is both man and God, and Hell is destroyed — there is no place left where God is not.

The old prophetic song is fulfilled, “Where shall I flee from thy face — in Heaven is thy throne, in Hell (understand in Hebrew — the place where you are not), you are also.” This is the measure of Christ’s solidarity with us, of his readiness to identify himself, not only with our misery but with our godlessness. If you think of that, you will realise that there is not one atheist on earth who has ever plunged into the depths of godlessness that the Son of God, become the Son of Man, has done. He is the only one who knows what it means to be without God and to die of it.

— Metropolitan Anthony Bloom