Of course, death is always with us in vast quantities that we can only imagine when we can’t sleep at night. But the ones that have gobsmacked me at holiday time started with a Shakespeare seminar classmate in college. I didn’t know him well, but when he disappeared over Christmas break in a small plane crash, I crashed into the first and worst depression of my young life.
Fear, plain and simple. My God, we can simply disappear!
Fifteen years later a co-worker at the Charlotte Observer took her own life. Then a friend from church, the mother of five, hung herself Dec. 2 while the Christmas presents she’d ordered were still being delivered.
The daughter of friends, the mother of two babies, died six years ago last week of a sudden brain aneurysm. And now, the younger son of heartfriends is gone in a single car crash in the N.C. mountains. He was just 23, not even yet old enough for the frontal lobe of his brain to have finished maturing.
I pray no one has said to his parents, “God must have had a reason.” Or “it’s all part of God’s plan.”
My God is not mean like that, and I hope he has things to be about, other than snatching away my friends’ happiness. Things like Syrian children and Mexican mothers and members of the free press and Republicans.
But my God did send his own heart to die horribly and humanly, a fact which accounts for the preference many of us have for carols in a minor key. Death stands at the manger, just like the evil, slighted fairy in “Sleeping Beauty.”
Cliche alert but one that exists because of its inherent truth: Death is a part of life which will be news to some people in their 90s who hang on for every possible medical procedure, no matter how miserable their lives and those of the people attending them.
Anne Lamott refers to her incipient grandiosity as her “tiny princess self,” and like most everybody, I have one also, but mine is built like a linebacker. Mixing metaphors like Christmas cookie batter, the reindeer that pulls my princess sled at this time of year is the promise of Easter.No matter what, that mewling infant in the manger was eventually dead, buried and rose again with a promise of eternal life for everyone, even the people who are mean to us.
Roman Catholic playwright Philip Barry (“The Philadelphia Story,” “Holiday”) said years ago something to the effect that he couldn’t get up out of his chair if he didn’t believe in God. This Presbyterian princess believes similarly. I do not want to be in charge. I want to believe that we will meet again, maybe just as energies, not necessarily cherubim with wings and bare bottoms.
There are mysteries and this is a basic one. You’re not going to know the details of this until after you’re — wait for it — dead!
In the meantime, what makes me happy: Christmas lights, even the gaudy, over-the-top displays, “Magnum Mysterium” and other sacred songs in minor keys, baking for friends and family, finding perfect presents for picky people, Bailey’s Irish Cream in cocoa, sunlight on snowfall, any number of things associated with the season. Not overdosing on sugar at this time of year. Getting to the Y when we don’t have 15 inches of snow on the ground.
I choose to believe in an afterlife like Marilynne Robinson describes in her marvelous novel, “Lila,” a place where everyone is reunited without the memories of past hurts and horrors. A restful, peaceful place. A place where souls are content without tree decorating, cookie baking, crazed shopping and frenetic wrapping.
I wish this for each and every one of us. Even Republicans.