A Healthy View

Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

It’s not often in today’s world that we have conversations with family, friends, or fellow church members about death and dying. Gosh, used to not a Sunday went by that we weren’t reminded of the hellfire and brimstone that awaited lost and lonely sinners; there was some point in every sermon or altar call that included a dire warning. But, heck, when we were young not only did we have no intention of visiting the gates of hell, we didn’t even plan to die!
My sweet friend Lauren McGuire has just celebrated the publication of her first article “Using the Side Door” in a Christian literary magazine, “Redbud.” All the pieces, poems, essays, and short stories have one central theme for the month of October: “A Healthy View of Death and Dying.” This is certainly appropriate for the first full month of Autumn when we begin to see the seasonal signs of dying plants, of trees whose leaves have begun to float onto once verdant lawns now turning brown, and of shadows becoming long and lingering even in the middle of the day.
Lauren writes that, like myself, she never really thought a great deal about death or dying. “When I was young,” Lauren said, “I saw myself as indestructible, protected by the solid shell of my own energy and the strength of naiveté.”  Brilliant!  Naiveté! A perfect description of the way my grandchildren think, and probably every other young person today. It is certainly the way I thought of myself 50 years ago.
In McGuire’s essay she offers a much more mature view of what the experience all of us will one day have to accept as our fate, no, our future. We will die. But Lauren suggests that as a believer, a Christian, we may expect to be ushered into the side door with a warmth extended only to close friends — entering without fear or trepidation — moving from one realm to another. No standing at the imposing front door, knees weak as water when using the giant brass knocker or pushing a doorbell whose chimes ring out Amazing Grace endlessly into Eternity. No, there is no fear of what lies behind the screen door on the side porch. Sweet forever.
Lauren also uses the ancient metaphor of the seed to suggest that we, like the full kernel, at the end of a well-lived life must crack open this earthly shell and “die” in order to live and blossom in the presence of our Creator. This young writer, wife, and mother of three, has given me pleasant and comforting ideas to mull over as I ( figuratively) wait wearily on the road nearing the end of my return journey Home.
Longfellow rings in my ears all the way from my sixth grade classroom, the only poem I have ever memorized:
“Life is real, Life is earnest/ And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art to dust returnest, / Was not spoken of the soul.”
I admit Bill and I are now at an age where we do read the obituaries, reciting the ages of those who have died recently. Congratulating one another for still being on “this side of the dirt,” as the saying goes.
We keep saying we need to redo our wills, but they are only 10 years old — not much has changed. Get a Living Will on file at the hospital. Clean out the attic. The garden shed. My closet! My chest(s) of drawers; Oh my, and I must throw away shoes, some that are …I am not kidding…56 years old! My once white satin wedding heels, the green velvet boots I bought our second year of marriage in Germany, the cracked leather navy and white spectator pumps that were my mom’s and the sling-back alligator heels and matching bag I bought to go with my fox fur (Vintage 1940s). Come to think of it, why don’t I just ask to be buried in some of these accessories when I finally “fold my tent” for the last time as our former Pastor George Dillard used to say when delivering funeral homilies.
I have an idea that my last breath will be to ask forgiveness from my daughters for not doing something with the thousand newspaper columns clipped, folded, and stuffed in the corner of the den and then begging their forgiveness for four trunks and two boxes of costumes my grandchildren haven’t touched in years but I kept in hopes that some little people might just come along looking for Halloween outfits….
Typically, the week was filled with strange coincidences. Seems like every book I picked up was full of reassuring platitudes about death and dying. A tiny book of poems by Yeats which I shared with friends on their way to Ireland. Irish poets are highly morose, but so lovely.
Then I had decided to reread an old favorite “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. Not coincidence, surely. Listen.
“When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our
Cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, Life grows.”
I was inspired once again to start keeping my own list of a thousand wondrous “small” things I will encounter each day… there is still time.
1. Still warm muffins
2. Shadows through the trees
3. My husband’s aftershave
4. Hot, hot water on my morning shoulders
5. The hummingbirds at the feeder.
Little things. Full of Joy.
Just 10 years ago we were attending the wakes and funerals of my mom’s friends and now it seems that the calls are coming to let us know that we have “lost” another classmate or friend. I pray that they will — as so must we eventually — “go gently into that good night,” to borrow and revise a famous line of poetry. Perhaps in the “Side Door” where a sweet, warm welcome awaits. “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine upon you and give you light” ( Eph 5:14). Amen.

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