Monday, April 18, 2011

What is inevitable and what's not inevitable ...

My often-underestimated spouse has offered an emotional tribute to the loss of a friend. This event, like others before it, makes me confront something both unpleasant and at the same time uplifting. In our relationships with others, it's inevitable that we'll be parted by the unrelenting reality of death. One of us will be first to go that way, and it's a harsh reality that we'll be parted in the process. Every human relationship is finite and will be terminated by the death of one.

Some of us cling to the forlorn hope that we'll be reunited in some mythical afterlife. I don't choose to accept that insubstantial promise of solace, that supposition of eternal life after an Earthly demise. Rather, what I choose to accept is that our interpersonal relationships will be severed by the inevitability of death. I've already had to accept the deaths of many friends and acquaintances. This is an unpleasant part of getting older. I miss them all, every day. But I have solace of a very different sort than the mythical promise of eternal life in some paradise of a supreme being.

Although separation is inevitable, what is not inevitable is the experience of having shared my time on Earth with someone who has brought joy into my life. This is indeed far from inevitable. My experiences with most people are fleeting and of little significance to me. Sorry, but that's the reality of life. However, some people leave an indelible and important impact on my life. These special relationships run a gamut of variety, but what they have in common is that I feel enriched and happy that I had some time to share my existence with these people. Losing them before I myself have passed means that my existence is impoverished by their absence -- but at the same time, I must acknowledge that my existence has been enhanced by the time I had to share with them. I choose to dwell on that, rather than my loss -- it's selfish to be absorbed by feelings of loss and bitterness over that loss. I prefer to be thankful for the joy these people brought into my life.

Laughter over light-hearted moments, empathy and understanding in times of sadness and loss, discussions that have enlightened me and enriched my time, love that we've shared, hobbies we've enjoyed together, wonder and awe at the natural world, arguments that have left me grateful for their willingness to give me their unadorned opinions of me and my thoughts, moments of profound connection as human beings that seem to go beyond normal communication. These and many more such are gifts that have flowed from the non-inevitability of the real relationships I've had and which continue to bless my Earthly existence virtually every day. I've welcomed many people into my life and been grateful for most of them. If they pass before I do, I refuse to submit to self-centered mourning for my losses. Rather, I exult in the times we shared and the connections we've made. Ultimately, we die alone, but the blessing of friends and family make our time here rich with experiences and shared humanity. At some point, my time will come and I don't fear that moment very much. Others have gone before me, and others will follow, inevitably. But the value we place on the time we spent with our friends and family is not mandatory -- it's a matter of choice. I choose not ever to regret that time nor to negate the joy of those times by my selfish sense of loss when those people have preceded me in the inevitability of death. And I embrace the principle that death is an inevitable part of life, not something evil or malevolent.


Anonymous said...


If we're truly fortunate, we won't die alone. We will be surrounded by our loved ones.

Carpe diem!

Chuck Doswell said...

Even if our loved ones surround us at the end, they won't be dying with us. Each of us must confront that on our own. They will remain alive as we go on to whatever awaits us.