Talk to any window washer and they’ll know the joke – “I’m not afraid of falling,” they’ll claim. And in a deadpan delivery, add – “It’s the sudden stop at the end that scares me.”
Obviously, the fear of death can be a big motivator in how we approach things.
For instance, I recently initiated an earlier bedtime because of an article I read claiming that my heart attack risks could be minimized with 6-8 hours of sleep.
So, I went to bed promptly at 10pm and fell easily into slumber. The difficulty came when my internal clock woke me several hours later. Rolling over to look at my bedside clock, I became a bit panicked.
I was wide-awake – early enough that I really should have looked for a plane to catch, but I started doing math instead – counting the hours that I had been asleep.
Fraught with worry over whether I had slept long enough to avoid the sudden death of a heart attack, I began to calculate my sleeping hours. Did the article say 6-8 or 8-10? What time do I need to get up 6:08 or 8:10?
Geez, I thought, I can barely do math when I’m awake. I sure can’t do it when I’m half awake – or is it “half asleep”? Drats! Now I was attempting fractions – I’m toast.
Stressing over the math and the lack of sleep, I then began to wonder if it was possible for the stress to give me a stroke while the insomnia simultaneously triggered a heart attack.
I know it all seems a bit obsessive-compulsive, but I took comfort this week from two e-mails that told me that I’m not alone in my fear of dying.
The first e-mail was from a reader who confessed that his fear of dying was keeping him from enjoying life. He wanted to know if there were any books that could help alleviate the dread he was feeling about death.
The second e-mail expressed the fear in a little more subtle way than the first. It came from the editor of a military publication who suggested that I rewrite a column I had recently submitted because the mention of death was too morbid for her publication.
My first e-mailer wanted to deal with it by reading a book and my second e-mailer wanted to deal with it by reading nothing about it – this at a time when the price of freedom is extracting such a morbid price.
Both e-mailers seemed gripped with superstition. The first was trying to shake his superstitious notion that fretting about death might somehow prevent it. The second seemed to feel that military morale could only be maintained by avoiding the queasy details of death. I’m not too sure either approach is reconcilable with reality.
Perhaps some might say that because I see death almost every day, I’ve become overly familiar with it, but I think my position gives me a unique perspective. And that perspective is reinforced in me every time I hear a lullaby over our public address system – which is about a dozen times a day – signaling the birth of a new life.
Also about a dozen times a day, I hear the hospital operator summon staff -” stat” – to quickly respond to a life and death struggle somewhere on the hospital floors.
As those announcements continue every day, they offer tangible proof that God generates a life circle in creation. As new arrivals fill our nursery, it is the synchronicity of creation, which continues to offer a balanced exit to those slipping into another plane of existence.
These hospital announcements have left me with an internal hope that there exists an eternal process – a river of life in which we all enter. And as we yield to the current of that stream, we become more about celebrating the life we have rather than anticipating that sudden stop at the end.