An Easter Meditation:
How much power am I giving death?
When the quarantine first began, we were in Florida. The weather was exquisite, and we were out biking, walking and swimming. Despite the sunshine, I began to notice signs of death. There was an armadillo on the roadside, bloodied and bloated. The next day it was a racoon, lying peacefully on its side, its eyes open, its heart still. Then a soft bird. Then a fish lapped up on the shore. Tuning into the possibility of death, I found it all around me. There it has stayed. Death is knocking at our doors, and we’ve put on masks and gloves and stayed inside to keep it at bay. It is seeping in through the news, where the death count is a running ticker. It burrows into conversations unbidden.
Like this one:
On my way to the grocery last week I stopped to talk to Demetrius, an older man who sells The Contributor paper at the corner of Woodmont Blvd and Hillsboro Rd here in Nashville. I got out of my car, and we chatted six-feet away for a while–about the loss of work, about the tornado, about the virus. Everything we said circled like a vulture around the topic of death until Demetrius stated quite simply, “I don’t care how I die. I care how I live.” Wise words from a good man who lost his one prize T-bone in the storms that ravaged our city and then lost his night job to layoffs and has now lost his customers, who can’t get near him to pay the $2 for the paper he sells. A good man who has lost a lot but not his sense of purpose or his hope.
Driving away, his words prompted me to consider: Am I spending more time caring about how I die than caring about how I live? Am I giving death more power than it deserves? Did I not study John Donne’s poetry in high school, close-reading his holy sonnet in which he boldly denounces death: denying its pride, denying its might, denying its very existence.
This quarantine is our noble effort to stop death–or more accurately, postpone it. The way we have stopped our lives for death could be viewed as giving pride to death, showcasing its might. But I don’t think so. It is, rather, giving pride to life. Our collective endeavor to shelter at home shines light on a fact so glaringly obvious we hardly stop to consider it. How glorious that all over this planet people love life so much that they will drop everything to protect it–not only for themselves but for others. Life is that worthy, that awesome.
And if life is so awesome, what makes us think death will not also offer its own awe-someness? As Paul writes to the Romans, “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Death is the end, but haven’t we learned over and over from creation that the end is never the end? Look outside.
Last month, barren. Today, teeming with life.
It would have seemed impossible–that the green, the growth, the blossoms, the creatures, the birdcalls would come back after the long gray emptiness–if you hadn’t already experienced the cycle of the seasons. If you hadn’t already witnessed life after death in the form of spring, you would think all was lost in winter. But it’s not. It never is.
Which brings us to Easter. Hail the festival day! The day that are hallowed forever. The day whereon Christ arose, breaking the kingdom of death. Every year on Easter morning, I go to church and join a chorus of hundreds of voices singing this hymn in jubilation, glorifying the day that death loses its power. Today, I did not go to church. Nor did you. We are home in quarantine, doing our part to help stem the tide of death. Its kingdom, though? That has already been broken.