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Friday, August 31, 2012

The Sting of Death

Do you regard death as the final tragedy or the final triumph? Is the death of a fool different from that of the wise? How can you prepare yourself for death? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 932).

The other day I reread Nathanial Hawthorne's short story, “The Great Stone Face” ( My first and only prior reading of the story took place in 1969 when incarcerated in Federal prison during the Vietnam War. Ernest, the hero of the story, became right then and there my hero. If you have an opportunity, read this story and ask yourself which of the four possible great men (Mr. Gathergold, Old Blood-and-Thunder, Old Stony Phiz, or Ernest himself) would have the best death. Clearly, in my mind, the answer is obvious. The one for whom death would be a triumph is the same for which life was a triumph. But in many ways, who that is depends on the eye (and values) of the beholder. Nathanial Hawthone's point of view is obvious, and I agree fully.

I have heard that for the Christian there can be no tragedy, for even death itself is a victory. If this is true, I ask why funerals are so often sad—even for the Christian? The immediate family particularly feels the sting of death, notably so if the death is untimely or arbitrary. Then, its much like a drama that ends abruptly in the middle without a sufficient sense of denouement; or much like if one gets a brand new car and it is totaled on the drive home. All of the effort involved in its manufacture has to seem in a way pointless and wasted. In this sense, life is much like a work of art that is imbued with balance and proportion. Without these qualities it somehow seems less a work or art than an accidental, meaningless jumble.

Clearly the greatest sense of tragedy arises from the fact that life is a one an only opportunity for each individual. When considered as an earthly function, this is it—there ain't no more. Even if heaven awaits, it is a sad thing if all one meets in this life is cruelty and suffering or superficiality and despair. Genuine happiness, even for a family dog, seems somehow a just and due dessert.

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