Death is one of the few guarantees. It comes for each and every one of us. Yet, not all deaths are created equal. There is the tragic death that comes in youth, and anticipated death in old age. Sudden death from accident or violence. A slow, managed death in a hospital. There is diversity in death.
In another sense, though, there are only two ways to die: Awake or asleep. We see a reality, presence, and dignity in the deaths of people like Malcolm X, the passengers of Flight 93, and Archbishop Oscar Romero. These are people who died with their eyes open. They understood the moment in time that they occupied, and they seized it.
One of the greatest fears of the medieval European Christian was of dying suddenly, without the chance to confess sins and prepare for the hereafter. Yet today we live in a society of sleepwalkers. Our culture denies the reality of death and loses touch with the visceral beauty of untamed life. Each day, each breath, each interaction is rippling with vibrancy, but so often we are oblivious to it.
I, too, have been a sleepwalker. I believed that I had to mortgage today to purchase tomorrow. I bought into a lifestyle of delayed faithfulness. In exchange for a mirage of responsibility and security, I surrendered the vibrancy, freedom, and power of the present moment. Rather than being renewed and transformed, I allowed myself to be conformed to this darkened, crumbling world.
Fear. That was at the heart of it. Fear that the truth wouldn’t really “work” after all. Fear that my ideals and passion wouldn’t bring home the bacon. Fear that this present moment, with all its beauty, still wasn’t quite as real as my uncertain imaginings about the future.
I’m choosing not to live in fear anymore.
It’s simple practicality: Fear just doesn’t work. Numbing myself to the joy of the present has never paid off in any way that really matters. Buying the future with the past is the game of the principalities and powers – the capitalists, politicians, and elite rulers. It’s not a game for me or mine. Our life, our calling is to serve the Lord. Today. Come what may. And there’s joy in that. There’s freedom in that.
Death comes to each and every one of us. No one escapes this final fate – no matter how rich, powerful, or successful they are in the eyes of the world. All that really counts for anything is: Will you die with your eyes open, your heart prepared, your spirit at peace? Or will you be one of the millions of sleepwalking zombies who goes to the grave with a life unexamined, joy unexperienced, love unexpressed?
Death waits for no one – and neither does this precious moment. Right now. Will you seize it?