Looking toward the great beyond
Children in the pews glance up sharply as they hear the cracks in adult voices. This is new. This is Death. This is what happens when time runs down to zero.
In death certain truths are laid bare. The first is that life and death sit on the same continuum, like positive and negative digits on a number line, the outer extremes of what it is to be human.
The second is that material things will rust, bust or turn to dust. The brass and crystal fixture that once lit the grand staircase of the Titanic, for example, was found in 1985 floating in the darkness of the sea, adorned by coral.
A third truth revealed is that power and status mean nothing in death. “The glories of our blood and state, Are shadows, not substantial things; There is no armour against Fate; Death lays his icy hand on kings.” So wrote the poet James Shirley.
Back in the church, the tear-stained faces of the woman’s children -now aged in their 60s and 70s, reveal a fourth truth; that love does not diminish with the age of the person departing, and endures far beyondtheir passing.
Does life continue beyond death? Like Plato’s chained cave dwellers observing shadows cast on a cave wall, unaware of their source and believing the reflections to be all that life is, perhaps life on Earth is only a reflection of what is to come.
John Henry Newman in his poem The Dream of Gerontius calls the act of dying a “strange innermost abandonment”, a separation from the universe in which the individual once dwelt, but not an ending.
Neurosurgeon and author Eben Alexander described his after-death experience of God as “an inky darkness that was also full to brimming with light”; “(o)mniscient, omnipotent, personal – and loving us without conditions.”
Perhaps at death there comes a different count, measured not by earthly concepts of time but , as Newman imagined it, “by the living thought alone”.
Maybe the journey that ends in death is not the end of the story.