Last week, I was scheduled to help a friend move into her new apartment across town. I had my GPS app pulled up to guide me, and mentally checked out until I heard the voice commands.
“Turn right. Then turn left.”
I did—off the main road and through the open iron gates, into a grassy field dotted by shiny, flat headstones. I stopped and looked for a sign. Sure enough, built into one of the yellow brick entrance columns was a plaque. Jonesboro Cemetery.
That in itself seemed funny enough. Just another comical failure in technology, akin to autocorrect snafus. But when I started to loop back around toward the exit, my GPS spoke again.
“You have reached your destination.”
I laughed it off then, and I still think it’s funny now. But there’s some truth in it I’m not so comfortable with. The fact is, my GPS is right. I might not be buried in Jonesboro, but somewhere down the line, my life will end and I’ll either be lowered into or scattered on top of the earth. Ashes to ashes and so forth.
Thus began several days of meditation on death, fed by a slew of outside information. A colleague announced that he has terminal cancer. Two members of our church died. Even the book I’m reading—ironically entitled The Living, by Annie Dillard—opened with the accidental death of a child and proceeded to kill off dozens of characters in the first hundred pages. In words frighteningly metaphorical, I could not get away from death.
All of this sounds morbid, I admit, and I suppose there is some truth in that judgment. I don’t want to consider dying, nor do I want to think about people close to me dying either. If our destination is death, I’m in no hurry to arrive.
The upside of these thoughts, however, is that it casts life in sharp relief. If I have a limited number of years, what do I want to accomplish? What do I want other people to say about me? How do I want to be remembered?
Beyond that. How can I enhance the lives of others? What can I do to make sure that life for others is better because I’m in it? Is there a way to live that makes a better life possible for everybody, even people I may never meet?
I’m not very good at answering these questions. To tell the truth, the more wrapped up in them I become, the more cranky and withdrawn I get. So I recognize that there needs to be some balance between thinking about life/death and actually living life. Enough people in my profession already live in the philosophical rather than the tangible, and it’s no good for anybody if I become one of them.
But the question remains. If I will someday die and be carried away—my body returned to earth and the rest of me to heaven—what do I want to leave behind? What path will be the most joyful on the way to that destination?