Some thoughts on dying a good death
| We might engage at length the ways in which a man might die. There is the why of it, the when, and the where. All of these could consume a great deal of our time, energy, and imagination. Of course, there is one facet of this dark diamond which we have not examined, that would concern the how of our death.
There are many ways for a man to die. Not all of these would in any way be considered wonderful. Some may consider Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet an example of how to die with a certain panache. The conflict of the star-crossed lovers has captured the imaginations of young and old for hundreds of years without abatement. From another perspective, there are those who consider certain types of suicide an example of an honorable and noteworthy death. To be sure, taking a gun in hand and discharging it through your skull would certainly arrest the attention of many, although it would hardly qualify as something wonderful. But then, suicide is what it is: death by one’s own hand. To discuss any existing wonderful qualities it may possess should be left to the philosophers. And then, there are those who wish to exit this world in what they consider the familiar blaze of glory. This has been done in many ways and for many reasons. If you are one conversant with history, you have, no doubt, seen pictures of many examples. Actor James Cagney’s “Top of the world Ma.” is telling as the defiant gangster confronts the police, going out in a hail of Thomson Machine-Gun fire. That is the type of glory that some fevered minds conceive of, though it is in no way glorious or wonderful. If you have ever seen the photographs taken of Bonnie and Clyde in their car after being killed by police, you will see no glory in being cut to pieces by automatic weapon fire. They lived what some considered a violent and exciting life. That same life led to an ignominious an inglorious death. And so, we have seen how the thinking of men can be corrupted as to what would constitute a wonderful death. Let us look further.
There is an unfortunate aspect to our question of how one might die wonderfully. That aspect is the simple fact that most people die far removed from any wonder at all, or so it would seem. Sadly, there are those who die lonely and alone. Others die without an opportunity to say a simple good by to friends and loved ones. The wonders of medicine being what they are, men can be spared practically all of the pain that might accompany some disease. Unfortunately, it may also leave them unconscious to the world around them. As with many things, such situations embody both good and bad.
To be sure, the examples of which we have read would normally be considered anything but glorious or wonderful. There is no wonder in any example we have read thus far. Such being the case, is it possible for one to die a wonderful death? It is most certainly possible, but whether it is probable depends completely on the individual.
And now, since we must consider that death begins with life, the first stage of dying a wonderful death would be to live a wonderful life. Living a wonderful life does indeed sound like a Herculean task. You might wonder what such a life would consist of. You may believe that such a life would be one celebrated by other men, with notoriety and fame. Well, there are many individuals who have been celebrated by the mass of men, but it could not be said of them that they lived wonderful lives. Many a bowl of fruit that appealed to the eye was hiding a rottenness within. Is having a modicum of wealth which gives one the freedom to travel around the world exemplary of a wonderful life? Wealth is certainly the siren call to many a young and aspiring athlete. Is being a multimillion dollar sports star the golden key that unlocks the door to a wonderful life? Is becoming a famous movie star the path to wonderful living? There are many who have given all in their quest for fame, all for the chance to live wonderfully - or so they believed.
Maybe it is the word ‘Wonderful’ that is causing us some degree of confusion. Should we have chosen a more suitable word? There are many we could have chosen. But, in reflection, I feel that we should stick with wonderful. After all, we brought this lady to the dance and it would only be polite to take her home.
Living a wonderful life is not as unattainable as some think. There are many people the world over who have lived a wonderful life, and there are those living such a life at this very moment. You see, living a life of wonder is no miraculous occurrence that would summon pilgrims to the site where such a life could be praised or worshiped. Living a life of wonder - if it could be described as praiseworthy - should be described as such because of the One who gave the means by which we might live at all. As the almighty’s creation, we have been supplied with all that is necessary to live a wonderful life. Of course, a wonderful life is not lived without its difficulties and trials. Some of those trials may seem overwhelming. Any of you who have seen the classic movie “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE” will understand what I mean. The protagonist of our story, George Bailey, encountered circumstances that made him view his life as anything but wonderful. As those circumstances grew increasingly worse, George began to consider that it might have been better had he never been born. But then, he was shown what the lives of the many people he had influenced would be like if he had never been there to make a difference. He realized that his life had been more inspiring than he ever imagined.
With that thought in mind, consider that your life could be more inspiring than you ever imagined. Do you think it’s far too late in the day for that. It’s never too late to begin anew. If anyone has taught us that timeless truth it is Charles Dickens with his Christmas classic “SCROOGE”. Scrooge was by no means a young man, but he was certainly an unhappy and mean man. He thought more of advancing his wealth than he thought of human dignity. Scrooge cared for no one and no one cared for Scrooge. His manner was such that even a stray dog would give him a wide birth. But Scrooge was about to experience a miraculous revelation. He would be shown the images that constituted his life and that had made him the mean-spirited man that he was. He was finally shown what would be his end if he did not change. His possessions would be scavenged by those whom he had ill-treated and he would be remembered by a cold marble marker without thought and without care by those who buried him. Fortunately, Scrooge did wake form his nightmarish vision as a penitent and change man. From that moment his life would be dramatically altered, and he would live on as one of the most well-loved men in England.
Of course, the stories we have mentioned are both wonderful fictions. We could only dream that life worked in the way that it did in these stories. But, even so, is it reasonable to expect that a person’s life must remain as it is in all habits and courses of action which have yielded no good end? We certainly know that anyone can change and turn his or her life around. There is much to support the idea that the reason people do not change is that they have long since settled into lifestyles comfortable to them. This is true even when that lifestyle has proven destructive to them and others. Being an amateur historian, I research a great deal of history. I vividly remember a woman recalling her experience in the Warsaw Ghetto in German occupied Poland. The way she put the thinking of many people is an excellent example of why people do not change their lives when given the opportunity. She said that people would hear talk of transports being organized from the Ghetto. She related how nervous this made people feel because it was better to stay with what you knew rather than go to what you didn’t know. That describes what many people feel when you mention life changes. Routine and habitual behavior is what people know and understand. Change is an unknown country full of intimidating things that they know nothing of.
But, is changing one’s life such a wholly unusual thing? Not at all; people all over the world do it every day. Many are doing it at this very moment. For some, it happens quite suddenly, like an epiphany. They come to the realization that they must make a life change, whatever it may be. They know that they must do it but are afraid of failure. It is natural to be afraid. Changing one’s life can be a daunting task. Attitudes and behavior that you have lived with for years, decades in some instances, don’t let go without a fight, so don’t plan on things being easy. No fight is ever easy, but it can be won. However, there is one truth about fighting that should go without saying; you have to get into the fight before you can win it. Make winning your determined goal.
It seems that it has been long enough that you might have forgotten that we are considering how you might live a wonderful life. The fact is, all of those things that will contribute to your wonderful life becoming reality reside within you at this very moment. You can change your attitude toward those around you. When you do that, you will probably change the way you speak to others, including the members of your own family. The old saying, “You always hurt the ones you love.” is one of the truisms of life. The very people we should cherish the most often get the brunt of our unhappy selves. There are a lot of unhappy people out there. Maybe you are one of them. Allow me to share a little truth with you, some people possess a certain degree of inherent unhappiness. They function normally throughout the day just as others, but they can be very introspective and philosophical about life. These tendencies often tend to cast a shadow over them from time to time. The problem with that shadow is that it follows them wherever they go and can effect whomever they meet. A low spirit can be picked up by those around you and bring them down as well.
All of these things will have a direct bearing on your attitude toward others and how you treat them as human beings. Generally speaking, most people respond positively to overt acts of kindness. When you exude kind behavior you often get kindness in return. But kindness is a funny thing in one particular aspect. The kindness you receive in return may not come from others, but from kindness itself. For, you see, things such as love, mercy, generosity, and kindness are eternal attributes that reside within the realm of the divine. And I must be certain to warn you not to ignore the unseen presence of God in all of life’s demands upon us. When you begin to return the good you have received from others, your life will immediately change for the better. From that point it is a case of simple logic. When you change the lives of others you become a different person. For the most part, that is the person others will remember. Even though a man’s life has been bowed down with mistakes and regret, if he determines to turn his life around it is not that people will suddenly forget his past, but they will be more amazed at the changed man they see before them.
The power of doing good has proven time and time again to be a powerful influence of generations. One changed life can make a difference in the lives of thousands. It can effect those who live in its direct light, as well as those who are yet to be born. The power of goodness is such that it can seem to defy the grave, as it lives on through the countless lives that it has touched. When a good man dies, he will be remembered for having lived a good life, and he will have died a wonderful death.