Moments of bliss

Death is there, but life is the mission

Memorial Day memories beget heroes, sadness, fondness, vulnerability, limits. This Memorial Day found me trying to get behind the bliss and visit my angst. As more than one person has pointed out to me, how else would we know bliss without angst? The trick with examining miseries is not to drown in them.

I emailed a friend I hadn’t heard from in a while. I half kiddingly asked him if he were still on this earth. I am old enough to know that Beatles get older and die, summers of miniature golf and Beach Boys end, and Greenwich Village with the Limeliters are but history. It is no longer 1967 and I am not sitting in Philadelphia’s Soldiers Field with a girlfriend listening to The Supremes. Those summers ended long ago.

I have lived to early old and am now entering medium old with no guarantee of when my life is over. Some people have said that death preoccupies me. I have examined this thought and, while I don’t disagree, it isn’t to be morbid. I look at death like I do mosquitoes and black flies. Why?

About two years ago, with good health in mind, my doctor told me to walk more.

“A couple of times a week?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “every day.”

“I have a bad knee!” I said in mostly mock protest. He smiled and said nothing.

I am not a perfectionist. I consider walking five or more days a week a success, even four is good. I mostly walk graveyards. They are quiet and safe from traffic. I was walking by a grave this week when my friend emailed me back.

He wrote to say that he and his wife are doing fine, but then he added, “Did I tell you Larry died?”

Larry was a close friend of his and an acquaintance of mine. Larry had been a big man, a man’s man, a man who had found his life partner early. He was loyal, dependable, likable and kind. In other words, I thought him immortal.

Processing his death I thought of death preoccupied. Like angst, I am discovering that acknowledging death can be divine. Recognizing death makes the trees greener, the rain wetter, the dog more important, my partner more beautiful.

On this Memorial Day I have very few aches and pains. I want to say to God, let’s stop the aging process right now. In a December 9, 1938, issue of The Economist, a columnist wrote,“May I remind you that death is frequent among everybody and is especially common in older people.”

I want the world as I know it to go on and on. Wait, let me get my iPhone and click off pictures of the world around me. “Here God, look! Keep it this way and let there be no more deaths or injury, starving or global warming, terrorists, shooters or war.”

For me this hasn’t worked yet. I had to find a different way out. I did, I accepted death.

I still support cures to disease, creativity in building safer cars, and solutions to conflicts. I believe we should strive to delay death’s angst. We deserve to enjoy the bliss we experience with our progress. Yet death remains.

Each death remembered, whether it be natural, accidental, or tragic, offers huge doses of gloom. We mourn our losses, but it is not death we should preoccupied with, it is life.

Bob Ritchie is pastor of Bennington Congregational Church and a regular contributor.

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