Death. It comes at the most inconvenient times. It was about a year ago, I think. I was driving to work. It was a beautiful morning. Most of my drive to work is freeway. The traffic usually isn’t bad. On the morning in question, I saw a few police cars stopped in the median, their lights flashing. As I passed them, I noticed a small pickup truck also sitting in the median. It was pointed in the opposite direction from the way I was going. Policemen were standing around the vehicle, and a man was seated behind the wheel, his face calm in the brief glimpse I had of him.
But it was obvious from the damage to the pickup that the vehicle had rolled. And I had no proof of it, but I had a sense that the man behind the wheel had died or was at the very least seriously injured. I drove the rest of the way to work thinking about that unknown man. Thinking about his day. How normal it was. And how quickly it had changed.
It wasn’t until a few hours after I arrived at work that I got the email. It was a notice from HR. An employee of the company I worked for had died that morning in a single-vehicle accident on his way to work. I had never met him. I hadn’t even heard his name before that morning. He left behind a wife and several older children, one still in high school, two in college. Did he wake up that morning with a strange premonition in his gut? Did he think to himself, you know what, I think I’ll just call in sick today and stay home? Did he have a few moments of clarity and terror as his truck careened off the road? I have lived a life largely sheltered from death, but for me that day, I realized that the peaceful man staring blankly from behind the steering wheel was really me. One day, it will be me.
Death comes to all of us. And it doesn’t come when we are ready for it, usually. It comes on its own timetable. If you are alive, you know that your name is written in Death’s appointment book. Perhaps the name stands on its own, without date and time. Just a penciled in appointment at some unknown future date. Or perhaps, if you believe in fate, the name is on a certain date at a specific time. But you can be sure the name is there. It’s not something that can be escaped. Prolonged, perhaps. But not escaped.
I used to have a different understanding of death than I do now. I used to think that death was simply a transition from one life to the next. Now, though, I see it for what it really is, a cessation of life, and to tell you the truth, that frightens me. I’m not comfortable yet with the idea that I’m not distinct from my body. That I’m not going to have an opportunity when my heart stops beating and the electrical impulses in my brain ultimately cease, to experience the joy of waking up to friends and family who have gone before and who have gathered to welcome me into my eternal reward.
I suppose I was never altogether comfortable with death before, either, but this new knowledge has changed my outlook on life. Before, I had the big picture. I knew of God’s plan for me, and trusted in his power and love. I knew nothing would be too hard, that he’d be there for me, to help me through anything that came my way. Things would never get too bad. I knew I’d never consent to using force against another individual, because I knew that if I died, I would be welcomed home, while if I defended myself and caused another person to die, I wasn’t sure how I would live with myself. Now, though, I’m starting to feel more jealous of the life I have and more willing to defend it even by violence if necessary. I’ve never wanted to own or carry a gun before. Now, though, I’m not so sure. I’m far less opposed to the idea.
Before, I was more afraid of old age than death. I was afraid of succumbing to the ravages of age. Of dementia. Of limited mobility. Of decreased faculties. I would much rather have died and regained full use of my faculties in the next life than linger here, a burden to myself and others. Now, though, I’m not as sure. Maybe I won’t mind lingering for as long as possible, even if only to see how the lives of my children and grandchildren play out.
At the same time, though, I’m much more resigned to the inevitability of death than I was before. It’s coming, and there’s nothing I or anyone else can do to stop it. So in the end, what’s the point? What’s the purpose of the struggle, when in the end, nothing matters? Although life is much more precious to me now, at the same time, I feel almost like it would be just as effective to end it all now. In the long run, a natural death or suicide won’t make a whit of difference to me, but it will affect those left behind. And so I suppose because of that, suicide really isn’t a practical option. But it sure still feels like a theoretical option, and even, at times, a pretty good one.
In the end, though, death will claim us all, and not necessarily when it best suits us. Death calls at inconvenient times. Will it call me, as it did my coworker, by way of a tumbling automobile? Will it come to me alone at the side of a road, witnessed only by weeds, a few field mice, and an indifferent circling hawk?
A few times recently, I’ve taken a different route to work. One that passes by her house. And you want to know what’s funny? I can’t help thinking. What if I get in a car accident? What if I die?
Let me crash on the freeway. Along my normal route. If death calls me along that path, I will gladly go. But wouldn’t it be inconvenient if my end came when I was traveling along a road that could only have one reason for me being on it? Yes, death is inconvenient. But to whom do I pray now that it not be that inconvenient?