There’s no point in fearing deathBy LINDA BERRY,
Like many millennials, and before them, post WW II "baby boomers", I am confronting in my 70's a life passage, which is by no means unique, but otherwise: we humans may be composed of microbial stardust, but - like stars, which have an aeons-extended life - we are mortal. Observing the recent televised celebrations of man's first venture to the moon, 50 years past, I am intrigued to see that the surviving Apollo astronauts, undiminished by mortality, are no less passionate about living and about space.
Because, like Everest (It was there. Still is, and will always be.), intrepid explorers like these NASA sky-soldiers who were brave beyond most will always wish to be in it, engaging that which is without boundaries, going to the ultimate Outback of planets, galaxies and stars which hang above us in the night, and still beg to be explored, and known. Bravo. Space, in its vastness, holds the limit of what is imaginable, and beyond space is something more mysterious and huge: The idea of God. This is the jumping off point from credibility and reason into trackless realms more awesome, significant, and unreachable by rockets but intuited by what theologians have called the soul, an interior universe perhaps as massive and unknown.
Some have explored this - Karl Barth, Aristotle, Aquinas - with varying degrees of belief or skepticism, and I have always been in the former encampment. Given the option, faith makes sense. If what we call death is not permanent, and there is joyful adventure available as we step into eternity, far greater than before, why not suspend one's criticism, choosing to trust belief in a good and just hereafter? In no hurry to find out, I find this a delightful prospect for the future, and endeavored in a letter to convey this hope to my aged mother this week. Still living independently and active at 95, with a youthful voice over the phone, my mother has good cognition and reasonable health as she approaches the centenary of a long and eventful life with several jarring redirections, and she is concerned.
What happens next? As a child of two, she had survived a polio epidemic which carried off many others. Moving about as an army brat, she was always the new kid, sometimes made fun of for her limp and southern accent. She married at 20, for love, a dashing Army Air Force pilot who died heroically with dozens of other Greatest Generation warriors, flying a luckless bombing run over western Europe. I have a picture somewhere of the ceremony in which she was presented with his medals, a flag, and sympathy from other officers. Freedom was preserved at great cost.
The war ended, and my mother soldiered on, interrupting her career at art school to remarry, move to the coast and ultimately have five children in the next dozen years. Her life passed quietly, steadily into her 60's, 70's and beyond, through the launching of her children into various professions, the death of a second husband, and now-extended years of reflection as she awaits the final chapter. What's next? My sister, who lives near her, reports that she is anxious and restless, dealing perhaps with memories of trauma long suppressed, for my mother and I share this capacity: if disaster happens, grieve, close the door and move on. Never go backward.
We are not cemetery-goers, nor sentimental. So I wrote her a letter, long, concerned and I hope, not mawkish, with the gist of which I also hope she sees: what is universal, inevitable and somewhere in the future, it is pointless to fear. That is not stoicism; it is faith, proceeding from an understanding that 1) there is a God, 2) He is good, and intends good for us on Earth and when we finally reach the stars, and 3) our current lives, when they end, will signal only a beginning. Something wonderful is out there, waiting - in this dimension and the next. Flights without disaster, songs waiting to be sung, and happy reunions to occur. Earthbound and listening quietly, I can hear the distant music; so, perhaps, can she.
Linda Berry is a Northsider.