Not The End

It’s a great time of the year to live in this hemisphere; to watch the world make its comeback. All these green, yellow, and white lessons in reincarnation happening outside of our windows are reinforced by the apex of all Christian stories – the resurrection. I don’t think you need to be particularly religious or non-religious to appreciate what I believe the be the most important nugget of wisdom.

Death doesn’t get the last word.

Our lives are made up of countless little deaths – from the moment we are expelled from our primordial incubator we experience the death and renewal of everything we think we know. Goldfish die, we move to new places and start over, we leave or are removed from jobs. Some relationships can’t survive the demands of change, sometimes our dreams are snuffed out by circumstance. We may be forced out of our illusory kingdom of immortality by a serious diagnosis.

To a greater or lesser degree, these deaths devastate and no one can imagine what life will be like after.

We might look back and point to these momentous occasions as being the dividing line between the before and the after, but then again, they might retain much less significance than we think they will.

Each of us is living proof of that life goes on after death. So’s the crab apple tree in my front yard that’s ready to burst back on the scene with fragrance and blizzards of white blossoms. There might be a new limb here, a dead one there, but the tree stands. Before that tree there might have been a different tree, or a bush, or maybe a patch of farmland. After that tree is gone, something will take its place.

Everything changes and stays the same all at once.

I’m going to go back to another nugget of wisdom from the Bible, this time a parable. If a grain of wheat remains a grain of wheat, that’s all it will ever be. But if it dies to its grain-of-wheat-ness, it can become a plant that will nourish and sustain. Only by giving up all it has ever known can it become something new.

Our tragic flaw, or maybe our cardinal sin, is to deny this cyclical nature of things. When we think we can cling to what we know, or when we start fussing over our own unknown expiration dates, we make bad decisions. We botox our faces into zombiness, we drive faster in pricier cars, we run 300 miles a week, we medicate ourselves to sleep at night.

But no matter what detours we take, the deaths come.

So do the resurrections.

My aunt died last Thursday. She was 89 and had a rough last couple of years after a massive stroke. She won’t be in history books and may never have a building named after her, but I remember her.

She liked things that were simple and high quality. She bought meat from the butcher and liked to watch birds. She drank gin and liked Shakespeare. She smoked Lucky Strikes until the doctor made her stop, hosted a big party every summer, and was an outspoken conservative. She had an unshakable commitment to Catholicism despite having a vocal unbeliever of a husband for 60 some years. Sometimes she and her sister, my mom, would talk for hours on the phone. They took each other out for lunch on their birthdays. She sent cards to my kids for every conceivable holiday and loved it when we brought them over in costume to trick or treat.

After my father died, she told me that she was going to hang back while my mom busied herself with the plans, the comings and the goings,the ceremonies. She told me that she would be there after everyone else went home and the house became quiet.

And she was there. They joined a senior center and went to see movies together there. They went on a day trip to the riverboat casinos to play the slots. She came over this past Christmas, in her wheelchair and with her oxygen tank, to visit for a few minutes and to give my mom a box of chocolates. She leaves behind a husband and a son, two grandchildren, two great-grandchildren.

Although it may feel like it to them, her death wasn’t the end. My crab apple tree will still bloom. Even if, as I sit here and write this, some invisible bacteria is attacking and killing that tree, the crab apple down the street will bloom.

It goes on, as do we.

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