Monday, January 12, 2015

Death Wins the Battle, Not the War

Acknowledging at the outset that words fail...

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.

12 Comments:

Blogger Magister said...

Ah, mush. Just imagine another heart here heavy with sympathy. I'll be praying for your wife, for you, and for your family.

1/12/2015 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

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.

Yes, just so. This life matters, very much - for if it didn't, Jesus would have had no reason to weep. And yet, it only matters if there is something beyond, Life from life.

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.

Amen.

1/12/2015 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Thanks Bob.

1/12/2015 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Leslie Godwin said...

I agree with all of the sentiments expressed and can only add my heartfelt condolences and prayers to their articulate comments.

I will continue to pray for you, your wife, and now your daughter and all those who love your family.

Mrs. G (Leslie Godwin)

1/12/2015 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

With bright sadness and sober happiness.

1/12/2015 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"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."

Aye. I reckon we raccoons are rebels with a cause.
Rebels to death and slavery.
We defy death, in life, death and Life.

Death hurts when it takes a loved one away from us however, we will still win the fight because we have Life in our corner.
Just when it looks like death has won, the count reverses and it is death that gets the stuffing knocked out of it, never to get up again.

Then we find that our loved ones are not gone, they are only waiting for us on the other side.
And yes, that still hurts but it doesn't stop us from living life more abundantly.

For our loved ones who have finished their earthly journey are living Life more abundantly than we can imagine, with a Joy n' Peace that surpasses all our understanding.

Our hearts will break but only so we can have bigger hearts, while our loved ones cheer us on from the other side.

Dwaine, my heart breaks for you and your family.
May our Father comfort you and grow your shattered heart, making it whole again and filled with His love.
I'm here for you brother.
God bless you.

Thank you, Bob.

1/12/2015 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

"Our hearts will break but only so we can have bigger hearts"

Given that expressions like this are the norm among the Raccoons, I'm humbled to know you all, however virtually.

1/12/2015 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

We hear of death all the time -too much. People killed by terrorists, a 5 year old girl thrown off a bridge by her father, and so many other tragic deaths heard on daily news casts. We think what a shame and die a little inside as our humanity is chipped away. But there is another level, deeper and visceral when someone we know is affected by death. I don't know Dwaine or his family, but I "know" Mushroom and his loss makes me feel like I've lost something too. Losing someone you love hurts in such a lonely way.

I'm sorry for your loss Dwaine. I hope as time passes your memories will be a great comfort to you.

1/12/2015 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

I was overcome to be included, however virtually, in such a private pain by Mushroom allowing the raccoon's mask to slip and invite us to share his grief as we are meant to: known to one another as He knows us each, by name, and by His name.

What joy when we shall see Him face to face, that Name above all others! A Name that contains all others within it so that not one of us is lost in Death. Rather, our life, our names, are hidden with God, in Christ.

I am so sorry for your loss. I mourn with you, Dwaine, and I hope with you, too. May His comfort complete what is lacking in my feeble offerings.

1/12/2015 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

So, so sorry. We are grieving in our home, too. Many condolences, Mushroom.

1/12/2015 06:33:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"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."

And life to life.

1/13/2015 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Thank you, again, Bob, and all. I've talked to a lot of people the last few days. Everybody tries to offer comfort, and I appreciate more than I can say. But the Raccoon family here is different and spatial, and I just went from crying to smiling. Bless you all.

1/14/2015 07:03:00 AM  

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