Every now and then I’ll get a hymn from my childhood stuck in my head. It’ll come unbidden, stirred to new life by a snippet of conversation or a familiar sight or sound. Like a whisper of wind it is there for a while, then it passes on.
One hymn in particular has been in my head lately. Unfortunately I don’t remember all of the lyrics, nor can I remember the name of it. I remember that it was one of my favorite growing up, although it has taken me reaching (young) adulthood to fully understand the song’s implications. These are the snippets I remember; they may or may not be correct:
“As the life of a flower, be our lives pure and sweet, may way brighten the day for the friends that we greet;
True today we are here but tomorrow may see just a grave in the vale and a mem’ry of me!
As the life of a flower, as a breath or a sigh, so the years glide away and alas we must die.”
Kind of morbid huh? I mostly just liked how the song sounded when I was a kid: it is sung in a fast tempo so I preferred it to the slower, brooding hymns we often sung. In reality this song is as brooding as any of those…or is it? I think it depends on the mindset of the singer. The song outlines an eternal truth: we all must die.
In America it seems today that we don’t give much thought to death. Sure we are aware of it, and we all know on an intellectual level that we must die. The thought gets shoved into the dustbin of our collective consciousness, something to be sifted through on a more convenient day. Death is confined to the hospital, the hospice, and the funeral home. The graves of our dear ones go unvisited, and those who walk cemeteries are looked at askance.
Death is put at arms length. We try to forget about it, drowning it out with the mundane things of daily life, trying not to think about it because it’s too morbid or just too sad.
True today we are here, but tomorrow may see, just a grave in the vale and a mem’ry of me.
Putting death at arm’s length means we take life for granted. Just as there can be no light without dark, there can be no life without death. A rock doesn’t live, and it doesn’t die. It simply is. We are alive, so one day we must die. That’s simply the truth. To ignore that simple truth, to shove it into the dark reaches of the mind and ignore it, is to live a shadow life.
How so? It invites ingratitude. We may know that we will die, but we certainly don’t live like it! We are here today. This very moment, the only moment that exists, is all we have. The past is gone; it gave birth to the present and became one with it. The future is not yet. The only moment we have is now. Our lives are a continuum of such moments that arise, pass, and arise anew until our finite lifespan ends. And it WILL end. In light of that undeniable fact, is it not better to live deeply in the now, to be grateful, than to live like death doesn’t exist?
Further, living like we aren’t dying allows us to procrastinate. “Tomorrow” is convenient; it’s always in the future! “I’ll do it tomorrow, I’ll be able to handle it then,” we may tell ourselves when faced with a project or situation that seems insurmountable. Do you not see? You don’t have tomorrow! It is not yet, it is not assured. Only now is assured. To live like tomorrow is assured is to live without urgency, to live without passion, and it keeps you from living a full life where you live to your utmost.
Finally, recognizing death puts things in perspective. You will die. Think about that fact: one day you will not be here anymore. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, the fact is that it’s scary at first to think about not existing in the Earthly realm. It’s something we cannot imagine, because our entire life is bound to this mortal coil; we have no bar to measure the concept of non-existence against.
Think on it: you will die.
Embrace it: say “I will die,”
Accept it: “Death is part of life, as natural as birth.”
Suddenly the little irritations, those daily bothers that seem to niggle so deeply most days, don’t seem so bothersome. What do they matter, in the light of eternal twilight? Things that seemed so deathly important before, things like making money, getting that snazzy car, living in that big house, suddenly don’t seem all that important. Things that got shoved onto the back burner, like family, friends, hobbies, or maybe even that novel you always wanted to write, seem to be pretty important now don’t they?
That is the power of living aware of death. It is the power of clear sight and a pure mind, free from delusion. It is the power to live deeply in the moment, to live genuinely.
May your life be like the flower’s. A flower is simply a flower. It doesn’t try, it doesn’t strive, it doesn’t struggle. It simply lives, and that is enough.