Death burns like an ember left in the fire pit. The ember signals the end of a fire that provided an audience for the living whether the fire is in the backyard pit or a bonfire before a rival football game or a campfire at a youth camp. The fire beckons the living to draw near. The fire provides light and warmth for those who answer the call. For those living in the distance, the benefit of the fire is an awakened imagination enhanced by wonderment and reflection. It sounds rather cliché to say that people make cool memories around a communal fire, but it is true. While I don’t remember specific conversations from my time around the fire pit, I do remember feeling alive. That type of experience provided a forum for conversation, laughter, and relationship building. The fire seems to have enough power to permeate the walls that separate communities and at least get people to enjoy the same space for a moment. Life focused on the light, warmth, and the wonder of a fire, leaves no space for thoughts of the fading embers and death. Something that created a communal vibe and breathed positive energy among a group of people is also symbolic of the cycle of life.
Death lives with me even though I have never considered it a friend. Death reminds me of that nosey neighbor whose company is never the mission, but who I know spends a lot of time peeking into my world for any glimpse of what it must be like to be me. Death is a bothersome, abrupt end to a relationship with the world. Every day that I live I overcome death. However, every day of life gives death opportunity to loom over me like hovering rainclouds. Seeing the clouds pregnant with change brings anticipation and consideration about the unknown. I am left wondering at what exact moment nature will dampen my life with a storm. When will death be relevant in my life again?
I had the blessing and the curse of being raised by older parents. The blessing of their wisdom housed in bodies weathered by the experiences that made them wise. My father died about twenty years ago after a lengthy, complicated relationship with heart disease. He had a love affair with stress and cigarettes that resulted in death teasing us for years with phantom knocks on our door. Mama lived on after his death to share stories about his life, their lives together, and the legacy they wanted to leave behind. Daddy always said he wanted to die a quick death and he did. On the other hand, residuals from Mama’s stroke and subsequent seizures frustrated her for about six years until she died a little over two years ago. Daddy refused the last surgery that might have extended the life expectancy of his heart and Mama said, “My brain doesn’t match my mouth.” Mama and Daddy always said to live life with your head and your heart. They encouraged me to live life passionately and with thoughtful, considerate decision making. Ironically, it was the malfunctioning of her brain and his heart that quieted their voices and quenched the kindling spirits within them. Watching Mama and Daddy flirt with death for so many years didn’t make me any more comfortable with end of life discussions or preparation for the finality of death.
Everything in me resists death talk like being forced to wear heels and pantyhose for more than a couple of hours on a hot summer day. Even if I could limit the conversations, I couldn’t separate from the sight of my dying loved ones. As much as the thought of being without their physical presence saddened me, I appreciated the resilience and courage that lives in a dying person. Good church folks talk a lot about life over yonder and the transition to a place with many mansions in the sky. Unfortunately, when the fire of one who warms my spirit becomes a burning ember of a smoldering fire, death is like the nosey neighbor imposing unexpected confidence that brings him knocking at my door. Death is complex in that it arouses competing thoughts and emotions. How does something representative of lifelessness ignite movement and motivation? I don’t know how it does it, but I know it does. Maybe it has something to do with the cycle of life and the need for mankind and the universe to continue to exist.
After Daddy died, I remember struggling to recall the details of our last conversation. After Mama died, I remember thinking, “If I had known that it would be the last time we…., I would have done something differently.” The thoughts I had after death called Mama and Daddy made me thankful that I supported my loved ones in the best ways I could so that I would not have to live with regret. Death motivated me to do all that I could do to honor them after death in the celebrations of their lives. Because I was forced to be more intimate with death than I ever dreamed I would be, I was moved to come to terms with the truth that we each have a limited amount of time to contribute to the greater good. Death motivated me to be present in moments with those I care about because I never know when it might be the last time I did anything with that person. Familiarity with death moved me to use my voice and to express my passions out loud in service to others while I have the blessing of time. I challenge my audience to learn from my relationship with death. I want to inspire my audience to live life out loud every day and to value the relationships in their lives.