Death Wins the Battle, Not the War
Plus, being an essentially lighthearted blog, we are not well equipped to deal with tragedy and loss.
Rather, being that there is quite enough of those two buzzkillers in the world, we try to emphasize the 99% of life -- quantitatively speaking -- that is not tragic, painful, and seemingly pointless, but rather, all of the spontaneous pleasure, joy, playfulness, and meaning that infuse our moment-to-moment lives if we pay attention to them.
Besides, it's too easy to focus on the negative, and taking the easy way out is just not the Raccoon way. Rather, we practice the Way of Irrational Exuberance and Stubborn Happiness in Spite of it All. Or at least we try.
I know as well as anyone that someday (and some days) life is going to wipe that smile off my face, if death doesn't do it first. But until then -- and who knows, maybe even after -- it's defiance. Sure, Death holds our coat while snickering, but we snicker right back.
Over the years, our cyberlodge has experienced a number of significant losses. Off the top of my head, there was reader Ximese, then Cap'n Ben's wife last year, and now the shock of Mushroom's wife. There have no doubt been others, because when a longtime commenter suddenly stops commenting, it is possible that they have ceased commenting, period. Problem is, a good number of Raccoons seem to be the kind of solitary folks whose absence won't be noticed until the mail is falling out of the overstuffed box and blowing down the street.
Of course, we do not deny that 1% of tragic and awful business. To the contrary. We are all too aware of it, which is the very reason why we try to focus on the other 99%. Death is the great motivator, even if it is eventually the great equalizer. Nothing grabs our attention like awareness of the End of Things. Truly, it puts everything else in context -- a temporal context, because all human time is situated in the context of its eventual end. Life itself is a midlife crisis.
To be consciously aware of this end is to be human, while to deny it is to remain a child. Secularists imagine that religion is a fanciful escape from death, when the reality is 180 degrees from that: an honest confrontation with the naked fact of our own demise. The purpose of religion is not to avoid this confrontation, but to live it. For the Christian, even -- or quintessentially -- God lives death, in the faith that this ultimate living death is death to death.
These two things -- human and death -- absolutely coarise, for which reason Genesis makes the link explicit. Although it does so in a mythopoetic manner, not every truth "happened" in the usual way, nor are things that never happened necessarily untrue. Or rather, some things happen in a different way than the way things happen on the material plane. Some things are true in the sense that they happen to every human, every time, not merely because we can articulate them with symbolic speech.
One of the early fathers, Tertullian, writes that "The word dead signifies merely that something has lost its soul, by which faculty it had formerly lived." Thus, it "applies to a body," not to that which animates the body, for how could such a thing ever be born or die? While it has a "beginning," this beginning is outside space and time, nor does the soul ever forget the traces of its own extra-temporal creation. Paradise is a memoir of the future.
In other words, every human, by virtue of being one, is in the world, but not possibly of the world, and therefore not in the world completely. To be completely in the world is to be an animal, pure and simple, whereas to be human is to exist in a space that transcends the world. Our "hope" is simply that this existence does not perish because it cannot perish -- unless we choose another kind of existence, which also persists (if persist is the right word, being that it may be a kind of suicidal choice).
Another early father, Irenaeus, writes that "souls, as compared to mortal bodies, are incorporeal: for God breathed into the face of man the breath of life, and man became a living soul." To die "is to melt away into those elements from which it had the beginning of substance." This breath of life is incorporeal form, not corporeal substance; it is "not a composite" so it "cannot be decomposed, and is itself the life of those who receive it."
All life is a "living toward." Toward what? Either toward death -- and therefore self-nullifying absurdity -- or toward some sort of fulfillment that cannot occur in this life, but which we nevertheless intuit in such a way that the transcendent object of intuition flows down and back into our present life.
As Pieper writes, "if, until the very moment of his death, man is really a viator or traveler 'on his way' to something," then this life-as-hope is oriented to something beyond the boundary of death, something known through what we call "faith" -- the operative word being known, i.e., the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.
Life is intense. One thing that makes it so uncomfortably intense is the backdrop of death. For Pieper, beatitude, or eternal life "does not simply mean living without end, but the supreme intensification of the state of being alive": life without limits.
So, our thoughts, hopes, and prayers are with Dwaine and his family, that the shock of loss will eventually yield to faith in a greater and more intense victory.
Apologies for any inappropriate pedantry or humor. My only excuse is the Popeye defense.