*Ranty/rambly post that might not actually say anything. Feel free to skip it.
I went to a funeral today. A very nice funeral for a good guy that really didn’t deserve the disease that took him from this world.
I knew the guy, but at the same time I barely knew him. He served, and when he got sick resigned, as an Elder in our church. During a difficult time in our church he even served as Preacher to keep our little church family together.
I say I knew him because serving in the same church, we were in the same place a lot. For more than 10 years we spent a good portion of our Sundays together. We never really spoke much except a handshake and a ‘how are you’. About 9 years ago, during a July 4th picnic, he cornered me and gave me a 2 hour lecture on how I was abusing my kids by homeschooling them. (Well, it wasn’t as direct as that, the phrasing he used was “homeschooling is just a cover for child abuse”. But his opinion of the practice was very clear.) But then when our van broke down and the shop we took it to gave us an outragious quote, he took it from them and had it fixed for us. We never saw a bill. Then when the time came to nominate new deacons, and my name came up, his only comment was “he should have been made one a long time ago.”
But then I didn’t know him at all. A lot of people shared a lot of things at the service yesterday, about his work life, about things I never knew he was a part of. As is true in every church family, the family member have an entire life outside the church that church member might never be a part of.
As is the case when funerals happen, my thoughts have turned introspective. And that’s what I want to talk about today. The random things that are fogging my thinking when faced, once again, with the reality of death.
And my predominate feeling whenever death enters my mind is TERROR.
Anyone that says they don’t fear death – unless they are literally facing death because of chronic illness or something – is a liar. Everyone fears death. I think a fear of death is healthy. It keeps us from doing stupid things. It’s what makes us look both ways before crossing the street. It’s what makes us face something like cancer and say “I am going to beat this”.
Fear of death is good. Being terrified of it is healthy. Right? When death enters my mind, I get the same feeling I get when I drive on ice and I feel the wheels slip. The same feeling I get when I lean back to far in a chair and start to fall. When I’m on the edge of a cliff and look down.
It’s a natural feeling. It’s the feeling of “something is wrong and if I don’t change that something, bad things could happen”.
Fear of death is good. It keeps us alive.
But at the same time…….
Ok, going to get really personal here. Really really personal. But I share these things not to say “hey, it’s all about me” but to say “hey, this is where I’ve been – maybe you’re there and you need to know you’re not alone.”
So here goes….
I’ve faced death. A couple of times. More than a couple. Once it was aimed at my face. Other times, I aimed it at my own face.
I worked as a pizza delivery guy in a big-ish city. The place was always busy. Like insanely busy. If you remember “4 bucks 4 bucks 4 bucks”, then you get the idea. I enjoyed the job, for the most part. I got to drive around, listen to my radio, have some interesting encounters, and for the most part the tips were fantastic. And it’s because of those tips that sometimes, not very often, but sometimes, pizza guys (and gals) are a target.
And it was on an exceptionally busy night, New Year’s Eve, that I became that target.
I think the guy knew the best time to get the most money from a driver. Even though we practiced the very strict rule of “drivers don’t carry more than $20”, we often took more than one order out at a time, and if we took a few large orders out at a time, we sometimes had a big wad of cash on hand until we got back to the shop. (This was the days before online ordering and credit card payments over the phone. Practices that are really common now.)
And that was the case. I was on my 4th stop, last one before going back, and I probably had $200 in cash. My practice was not to keep it in my company-provided fanny pack, but to put it in a pouch under my seat. A lot of drivers did that. And the robber knew it too. (I don’t think he was ever arrested, but the people at my shop told me they believed he was a former employee.)
I’m returning to my car after that last stop, and suddenly there is a gun in my face.
I wasn’t a hero, in fact I was a coward. More to the fact, I cried. Literally. Tears running down my face crying. I gave him the fanny pack, and when he asked for it, I gave him the pouch under the seat. He shoved them in his shirt and ran.
I drove as quickly as I could back to the shop (not very far away), where there were lots of people and it was very well lit, and spent several minutes completely falling apart. I don’t remember much else. The police showed up and took a statement. I clocked out and went home. I applied at a different place closer to home the next day and was hired almost on the spot.
Maybe I’m over-dramtising the details in my head, all this time after the fact, and it could be argued that I wasn’t actually facing death because maybe it wasn’t a real gun, maybe it wasn’t loaded, maybe he never would have shot me. But the point is, I BELIEVED it was real, and my reaction was to change from a big, six-foot three man into a blubbering idiot.
Actually, no, I wasn’t an idiot. Fear of death is not idiotic. Fear of death kept me from doing something idiotic, doing what I had been trained to do (cooperate fully with the robber).
(And you “if it had been me, I would have been carrying” guys have a thought, keep it to yourself. Even if I had a weapon – something that would have got me fired – even if i had it in a holster at my side – I wouldn’t have been able to use it. He came practically out of nowhere, and the whole scene with the car door and everything – if I drew it out you would see that the ‘second amendment’ wouldn’t have made a lick of difference, so don’t even….)
That was the first time.
The other times are harder to talk about because it wasn’t someone else pointing a gun at my head – it was me, pointing a (figurative) gun at my own head.
I said before that a healthy fear of death is good. And it is. But sometimes the brain shorts out and that fear get turned inward – along with so much other junk – and fear becomes self-hate, depression, despair.
I’m not going to go into details because the whole episode can be very trigger-y for some. But I’ve been there.
And I could write long volumes about the experience and the hospital and the therapy and the hippie-dippie-feel-good-self-love junk that was drilled into me. At the end of the day, none of that really stuck. In the end it was getting just far enough out of the hole to see beyond it and again think of death with a good, healthy terror.
But as Christians (since the site has the word “christianity” in it) are we supposed to fear death at all? I mean, when we die, there is Heaven, right? If we are to believe what we’re taught, we’ll be an eternity in Heaven and this life will just be a tiny blip in our memory, right? So why worry? Why fear death? If anything we should embrace it because Heaven is where we want to be, right?
And while, yes, I believe there is a place after death, I am not in a big hurry to go there. (We an debate the nature of that place at another time, whether it’s the “clouds and angel wings and harps” that cartoons show us or if it’s something that most people don’t comprehend….) and I am firmly of the opinion that even though many claim our “kingdom is not an earthly world” and we should be “in the world, not of it”, that we are put here for a reason, and that reason is to do and be love and justice to those around us in every way possible. And I want to fight every minute I have breath in my lungs to do that. I can’t do that from Heaven (I don’t think….)
So, no, I am not in a hurry to go to Heaven because I have work to do here.
But more than that, there’s the fear that, maybe, death HURTS?
What if, even passing away in one’s sleep is painful? What if we don’t fear death, we fear that the act of it is the worst pain ever? And it’s not oblivion on the other side that scares us, but the act of passing?
This isn’t helping….