Start with the Ending: A Post About Going Gently into that Dark Night


“When there’s no pretending,
then the truth is safe to say,
Start with the ending,
get it out of the way
Now there’s no defending,
because no one has to win
Start with the ending,
its the best way to begin”

— David Wilcox, “Start with the Ending”

Today was a fairly miserable day which I gladly used a precious vacation day to “enjoy.” I spent the morning at the life celebration service (funeral for those who do not speak positivese). It was a lovely service as these things go, but it was still a time marking our concern at the loss of a friend, co-worker, family member, etc. After the service my family dropped by the home of another friend to say our goodbyes and show our love to his family. It seems another service is not long for my schedule.

If you are thinking that’s a lot of grieving on the plate (unfortunately compounded by the ill-health of several other friends, both involving long hospital stays), then you and I are on the same wavelength. All this thinking about death has left me a little morose, struggling again with my insomnia, and generally longing for this long week to end mercifully soon.

Yet as I sat at the service this morning I found myself thinking about the words of David Wilcox. Sure the song is about relationships and not death, per se; but in the testimonies being offered I saw the lyrics in a new light. Too often we go through life clinging to it, clawing; scrapping, and fighting for it. We, like the poet, rage about not going gently into the dark night. Yet, I wonder if this is not the wrong way to go about this thing called life. I wonder if this is perhaps the apotheosis of the Christian life. Our scriptures as Christians, our experiences as humans, and our cliches as Americans point to one single inevitable fact: death waits for us all. One day it will knock at our door, and we will be forced to answer its knock, no matter how hard we fight or what medical advances we may create.

So why not start with the ending? Why not get it out of the way? We can stop pretending to our invincibility and  stop defending against the inevitable encroachments upon it. When we start by dying, we open up ourselves to truly living. When the end is assumed then we can truly begin living our lives as they should be lived.

I know I am bordering on cliche-land here, but give me a break my brain is mush right about now and I have been fighting the temptation to grab some brews and just get blotto to dull the pain. Because that’s how we normally do this, we just blind ourselves to the true reality of life, and avoid making any changes or improvements. What we need is something to break through the monotony and shake us awake. That is why I think a second song popped into my head this morning and has been sharing space with Mr Wilcox. So allow me to go out on a high point with the words of Mr Thom Yorke:

 

 

“In the next world war
In a jackknifed juggernaut
I am born again”

– Radiohead, Airbag

In the words of this song I hear hope (even if its author may never have found it ). I hear the hope which each new Spring brings along. The hope that I see every day. The hope that in death comes life. The hope that should I choose to die now, I will truly rise anew like a phoenix from the ashes. And so I commit myself to going quietly, to accepting my fate; yet always looking for the hope of rebirth in the fires of my misfortune. And in so doing I hope to echo the words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego which I learned long ago in Sunday School:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

I will not worship the god of eternal youth, for it is a lie; and it’s time to stop pretending otherwise. Who’s with me?

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3 Comments

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  1. Not sure why, but your words brought to my mind the scene in the last Potter book, where the 3rd brother walks off with Death, as with an old friend, having lived a long and full life.

    Certainly, in my experience, that is far from a common ending, far less common than it ought to be among followers of the Christ.

    BTW, glad to finally catch up with you! I pray all is well.

  2. Unsanitary Jesus 02/11/2012 — 5:24 pm

    Don’t get me wrong. I do agree with Dylan Thomas and others that death is the ultimate evil (I referred to it as the Dark Night). Conversely, I do call B.S. on the heathens. pagans, and atheists that would welcome death as some sort of friend. Death is our penultimate experience with evil in this fallen world. When that pesky snake moaned, “surely you shall not die,” it was the worse lie he ever told. He still tells that lie today. What I was hoping to convey is what the scholars call “resting faith.” We can open ourselves to death not because it is a friend; but because of our trust in Christ that death, our enemy, will not remain victorious over us for long. I like imagine to imagine our adversary getting all excited because he got one of us only to shout curses (I imagine something like ‘dammit foiled again’) as our Lord is there is rise us anew. This is our hope that Christ will be true to His word and complete his mastery over the adversary some time soon (most likely soon as he sees not, not necessarily soon as we see it).

  3. Perhaps a better analogy than the Potter one is simply that, in the end, Death may come for us, if not as a friend, as a defeated enemy. I have had too many friends and family who suffered long under terrible illness for whom death was a sweet release, and I was thankful to see them slip off to a much greater adventure.

    I have also seen Death come as a thief, destroying much that was beautiful in a very untimely manner, so Death’s defeat is certainly not yet complete. But there should be no fear of Death among the faithful.

    It brings to mind one of my favorite quotes: “Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me….That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”
    ― Stonewall Jackson

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