Monday, May 7, 2012

Chasing Death

It’s said that people fear death almost as much as they fear public speaking. It’s true, according to the studies, but it’s also a joke. We’re a country of extroverts; public speaking shouldn’t be a problem. And besides, as living creatures, death is obviously the biggest fear we should have. Punch line: what silly, illogical humans.

Now, I’m an introvert, but I’ve never understood the fear of public speaking. I don’t like it, and I’ll avoid it if I can. But when I can’t, I just get up and speak. I don’t even get nervous if I’ve had the time to prepare what I’m going to say. (Maybe this is because I’m not a good conversationalist, and public speaking is usually a one-way street.) In any case, I don’t want to speak in front of a group of people, but I’ll do it.

And that’s sort of how I approach death as well. I don’t want to die, but given time to prepare for it, I don’t think it would even make me nervous. My fears around death are more focused on avoiding pain and embarrassment during the dying process, not the death itself. But I don't want to talk about people's fear of dying today; I want to talk about people's love of death.

The relationships humans have with death are surely signs of original sin. Other animals act on instinct to avoid death; self-preservation (or preservation of the species) dominates actions. We think we are like that; we go to great lengths to hang on to youth, security, health, thinking we are instinctively avoiding death.

But we love death. We invite death in. Our actions are suicidal ones. We eat things of no nutritional value. We fill our lungs with smoke and alter our bodies with drugs. We drink in excess. We ride rollercoasters and jump from planes to induce rushes of adrenaline. We do things that “feel good” knowing that they aren’t good for us. This extends to spiritual actions as well. We gossip, we cheat, we lust, we covet, all while knowing these things leave us spiritually dead. Doing the right thing becomes counter-intuitive. Sin is the default; death is the familiar.

I have been in end-of-year mode for the past couple of weeks, sort of a default mode where I don’t make many decisions and just get tasks done. I felt empty, neither happy nor unhappy. Nothing was specifically wrong, but I felt spiritually dry. I knew I needed to get myself out of this funk, but I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t crack open my Bible, I wouldn’t pick up my rosary, I wouldn’t spend one extra minute on my routine nightly prayers. Part of me was telling another part that nothing was wrong, and I chose to believe that. I could see solutions all around me, but I wouldn’t reach out. I convinced myself that little things like a prayer or a Bible verse can't make much difference. I chose death instead, even seeing it for what it was, even knowing I was wrong.

One night last week I actually finished everything up in time to go to bed early. But I had been pumping my body full of caffeine, so I wasn’t going to sleep any time soon.  I figured “what the hell” and picked up my rosary for the first time since Holy Week. It started off as nothing more than trying to make a good use of time, but it turned into pretty good prayer. By the time I finished, I felt better. I hadn’t even realized how bad I had felt before until I felt so much better after. And I wondered why I harm myself in such a way, denying the good that is within reach, choosing deadly actions instead. What makes it so hard? Why do I forget how wonderful the good is? Silly human.

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