Death. Change. Life.

The Oasis of Ein Gedi, west of the Dead Sea.

It’s a poetry reading kind of day and I turned, as I so often do, to Emily Dickinson. Thumbing through a couple of collections, here is where I stopped (poem 749):

All but Death, can be Adjusted—
Dynasties repaired—
Systems—settled in their Sockets—
Wastes of Lives—resown with Colors
By Succeeding Springs—
Death—unto itself—Exception—
Is exempt from Change—

It’s odd to read such an optimistic poem in which death features so prominently, but it exactly suits me at this moment.

All but Death, can be Adjusted… I’ll speak to this a little more when I get to the last line of the poem, but for now I am reading it at face value. Death is the only thing that is inexorable, unavoidable, unchangeable.  Death will come to all creatures. It is the only inevitable.

Everything else can be Adjusted, changed somehow. Dynasties and governments can be repaired or replaced. Systems (for me right now that speaks loudly of bureaucracy) can be settled in their Sockets, they can be dealt with, controlled, tamed. Citadels, seats of power, both physical and moral or psychological, can be dissolved, can be conquered or undermined, made to dissapear.

Wastes of Lives can be resown with Colors. This is a particularly beautiful image. Imagine someone’s painful, lonely, guilt-ridden, fearful, anxious, limited life as a broad expanse of wasteland. Now watch as it gains new life By Succeeding Springs – springs in both senses: water sources and seasons of growth. Spring after spring floods the wasteland and changes it until it is resown with Colors. We have all seen that, many of us have experienced it, some of us have been privileged to work with people in the wastes of their lives, slowly and patiently, until they, too are resown with Colors. I can think of no greater joy, no greater privilege.

So we have see that Dynasties and Systems and Citadels and Wastes of Lives are not inevitable, they can be changed. Only Death–unto itself–Exception / Is exempt from Change, says Dickinson.

Yes… and no, says Knot Telling.

Yes, death is inevitable. Everything that is alive will one day die. So in that sense, yes: All but Death, can be Adjusted. But for me, there is a larger sense that derives from my spirituality and my religious beliefs.

I believe that death itself is a change, a passage from one plane of existence to another, just as real but very different. Theologians and mystics provide all kinds of (sometimes amusingly conflicting) details about in what the difference consists. I don’t worry myself about such things. I content myself with knowing that my bodily death will come, probably sooner rather later at this point, and that something else, something unimaginably different and wonderful awaits me. As Francis of Assisi said in The Canticle of the Sun “Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape.” Yes, embrace! When our Sister Bodily Death comes for me, I will embrace her and we will dance as she guides me through to the next thing.

As I’ve said here before, and I insist again, I’m no bliss ninny. I am not rushing headlong toward death, but I know it will come and with Stage IV cancer that will most probably be sooner rather than later. I am concerned about being dependent on others at the end of my life, but I am not in the least worried about what will come after I die. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Till We Have Faces: A Novel of Cupid and Psyche, “Death opens a door out of a little, dark room (that’s all the life we have known before it) into a great, real place where the true sun shines and we shall meet.”

See you there, when the time comes!

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4 Responses

  1. Mary LA says:

    How I love the poetry of Emily Dickinson, so often to do with death and loss. That quotation from CS Lewis is heart-warming.

  2. Sillyman says:

    When my father died his Mass card bore this prayer:

    We seem to give them back to you, O God, who gave them to us. Yet as you did not lose them in giving, so we do not lose them by their return. Not as the world gives do you give, O Lover of souls. What you give you take not away, for what is yours is ours also if we are yours.

    And life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing, save the limit of our sight. Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly; draw us closer to yourself that we may know ourselves to be nearer our loved ones who are with you.

    And while you do prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that where you are, we may be also for evermore.

    Bede the Venerable

    Apparently this quote is attributed to others, including Carly Simon. Probably right and just as it appears Bede borrowed freely from other authors of his time.

  3. heyjudyjudy says:

    I’ve never really liked any poetry except for maybe a limerick or two when I was a kid, but I enjoyed this poem and considered seeing if Emily’s poems have made it to Kindle.

    I’m not where you are, but I don’t worry much about what will happen when I die, I believe whatever it is, it will be okay.

  4. Maxine D says:

    I am not afraid of death – maybe of the dying process, but if that is through debilitation and dependence on others I believe that God will be teaching and walking with me there too.

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