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Sleep Sweetly, Sister Death | Catholic Life

Sleep Sweetly, Sister Death

Wretchedclose to death from the day of my birth… numb.

The words entered my mind unbidden this morning. I was not unhappy and I was not praying any more than I usually am. It was simply a continued reminder that death is here. I am happy, I am alive, my connection with death was snapped. And yet I am still, and always will be, a being toward death.

I was perplexed in college when I learned a bit of phenomenology because, at least as translated by my professor, I knew what I heard from Heidegger was pure Truth. And that was a problem since acknowledging what amounts to the victory and transcendence of Death is utterly opposed to the Truth I held in Christianity. But it was true. I knew that I was a being-toward-death in a way which was simply true. I was far form angsty or emo, but such was life. Others may have stumbled over Nazi implications, but I had to accept the fact that Truth was here articulated in a way utterly antithetical to my faith.

I lived with the questions of the contradictory Truths, though only for a short time. Adrienne von Speyr provided an incredibly clear synthesis a little over a year later. And I had an answer which I am confident will last for life: I am a being-toward-death-in-Love.

Somehow, a year or two after that, my awareness of living with death dulled to the point where it seems fair to say that my connection with death snapped. Somehow I was thoughtlessly alive the way that others are. I could reflect on it all and could not help being aware of it in some way, but death not only failed to embrace me, it was not inside of me, it was not my life.

I do not know whether marriage is indeed the sacrament of life. It is certainly oriented toward a happy shallow existence which mocks the self-absorption and profound isolation of death. But I must also be pragmatic. It is easier to be alive in the sense that requires the denial of profound truths when one eats and sleeps and goes through all of the motions of daily life in connection with another person who pulls one out of one’s thoughts into a discussion of a movie.

I think that I understand others, that is, what is normal. But I do not empathize with them. Instead, when I feel the shallow miseries of normal unhappiness (as well as the usual joys, of course) I cannot help but find the feelings odd. How is it that death has so lost me that I can actually feel these normal emotions? How amazing it is to be able to take one’s own despondency seriously! It is clever and childish and childlike and simply beautiful! Good God, am I truly capable of being genuinely trite? Such a gift. O Death, where is thy sting? Mwahah, not here today!

Death still is in me. On some days it enables me to live calmly with a grace that rivals that which we call peace. And yet, death is not me. I now find the formerly ever present thoughts–if you can even call them thoughts–of ways of ending my life odd. If some form of brining about my last breath occurs to me it is unusual enough to be surprising and worth really thinking about what has happened to trigger such a consideration.

I have planned for months to post about the very peculiar situation of losing connection with death. And I find myself a bit perplexed by the fact that I am not at all bothered to be reminded of its very real existence in me today. I know that it may return in full force and my short time of living in the way which we consider normal may be over in one glance toward the sky. But it does not feel that way. It feels as if I am alive, but death is merely poking through to remind me that it too is still me. Or in me? Or only my most significant inclination? Who knows how to describe it, but the notable thing is that it indicates integration far more than anything negative.

And so I say with a smile, hello Death. I do not care whether you choose to come back again or stay away forever. I acknowledge that I am a being-toward-death, but I am in-Love in such a way that it does not matter whether I spend this life conscious of my being-toward-deathness or not. Love matters, and Death, even though you are at my essence, you are not everything. I will live in whatever way I must and appreciate what I can when I can. If you return for real then I will no longer be able to speak so lightly, but for now I am too alive to fear you. I am too shallow to think of drowning.

Terrors do not reduce me to silence. I chatter. And I chat with Death.

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8 Responses to “Sleep Sweetly, Sister Death”

  1. Matt 20. Jan, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    This is an awesome post! I’d love to hear how you would critique my paper on Balthasar and death in light of this.

    • Rae 22. Jan, 2011 at 9:40 am #

      Thank you! And I’ve put a response to your paper on my “to-do instead of tweet while at work” list for down-times next week. :-)

  2. Tara Meghan 20. Jan, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    Death is my shadow. It isn’t within me, but is of necessity always where I am. When I can’t see it, I know I have strayed into the dark, or am facing the wrong way!

    • Rae 22. Jan, 2011 at 9:41 am #

      I am not sure that I understand you, but you sound very wise. :-)

  3. Rebecca 20. Jan, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    Beautiful, simply and complicatedly beautiful.

    ‘After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure’ ~Albus Dumbledore, HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone

    • Rae 22. Jan, 2011 at 9:42 am #

      Thank you. And the quote made me smile.

  4. alison 21. Jan, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    wow this read like a poem!
    I had an incidence two weeks ago where my plane was in the midst of taking off and abruptly stopped and came to a screeching halt. Something triggered in the engine, mechanical problem. I kept feeling like I evaded death somehow and yet it occurred to me as we were taking off again (in the same plane) how that was a more obvious sign of the closeness of death, but we aren’t always given that privilege. it is truly best to be ready at any minute, without the fear you speak of.
    my mom tells me that in crying for lost loved ones we’re really crying for own morality. i think there’s lot of truth to that.

    • Rae 22. Jan, 2011 at 9:43 am #

      I am glad that you are alive. It sounds like your mother has pondered issues that nagged at Augustine.

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