Sunday, November 23, 2014

Strike, Shadow, Strike!

Because of my work as a Hospice Nurse I no longer recoil from death and dying as I once did. But so many people still do. A chief desire of mine is to help people overcome this fear and loathing. I want people to see past it; to look beneath it to see the humanity; the person. At that level, we can all relate and share a common understanding of just how precious life really is. This allows us to stop running away from ourselves and each other, and instead turn toward one another and really live; really love.

Recently I was struck by a quote from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which really captures how I look at death these days.

Dickens sets the stage: Ebenezer Scrooge is with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He has been taken to a room which was very dark
"...too dark to be observed with any accuracy, though Scrooge glanced round it in obedience to a secret impulse, anxious to know what kind of room it was. A pale light, rising in the outer air, fell straight upon the bed; and on it, plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for, was the body of this man.
Scrooge glanced towards the Phantom. Its steady hand was pointed to the head. The cover was so carelessly adjusted that the slightest raising of it, the motion of a finger upon Scrooge's part, would have disclosed the face. He thought of it, felt how easy it would be to do, and longed to do it; but had no more power to withdraw the veil than to dismiss the spectre at his side."
Here is Scrooge, unable to face death although he knew he wanted and needed to. And in that place of fear and hesitancy, he hears a voice. Dickens tells us "No voice pronounced these words in Scrooge's ears, and yet he heard them when he looked upon the bed."
"Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion!
But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man's.
Strike, Shadow, strike! And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal!"
Dickens wisely reminds us that if we love one another, revere & honor one another, then even in death the faces of our loved ones will not be dreadful or horrible. I've seen people gaze in wonder and awe at the face of a family member who has just died. The true worth and value of that person somehow becomes more understandably real than it ever was when they were alive. Part of missing someone is the realization that they meant far more to you than you ever knew...until they were gone. And this is good for us, because (if we let it) this experience opens a new space inside us to love more fully than we had before.

When someone dies and all we have left is their memory, this becomes a story we tell to ourselves and to others, and the next generation then remembers as well. It is like a seed falling to the earth and being buried: only in this way can that seed bring forth new life. And we, in the very act of dying, become the story that is told and changes the world around us.

The holidays are a very difficult time for many who have lost loved ones. We feel their loss more keenly when we see and experience the warmth of family and friends. This year may we all remember fondly our loved ones who are gone from our sight. Tell lots of stories and share memories of the bad and the good times of life lived together. And, in so doing, like Dickens we can taunt death; revile its seeming theft by acknowledging the way new life always has a way of springing up to the eternal.

Life and Love do win, my friends.

In the end Life and Love will always win.

~ Keith


KandN said...

Thank you, Keith.

Can Opener Boy said...

You're welcome Karla. Warm holiday hugs to you and yours.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully expressed, Keith.

Stephen Sakellarios said...

My research reveals that this passage was not written by Charles Dickens, but rather by an American author named Abby Poyen Whittier. However, Dickens modified it. Instead of "to sow the world with life immortal," it said something with regard to "the soul set free immortal!" You can see it if you look very carefully at what Dickens scratched out in the handwritten manuscript held by the Morgan Library and Museum. Dickens plagiarized "A Christmas Carol" from Abby and her husband Mathew.

Can Opener Boy said...

Thanks Stephen, that's interesting info to ponder.