Today is the seventh anniversary of the death of my cousin Bobby, who was a firefighter. He lost his life fighting a house fire. It wasn’t the kind of fire that usually takes lives, but this one did. A ceiling collapsed on my cousin, knocking off his mask and air supply as he battled the fire from the second floor of the house.
On an earlier anniversary of his death, I shared a journal entry Bobby wrote when he was in eighth grade titled Life and Death! As we move from the end of one liturgical year to the next, having been listening to the “end time” readings the last few weeks, I thought it worth sharing again.
The post began “I’ll tell you right now, I don’t plan on dying for another seventy years.”
Isn’t that how most of us live our lives? At one level, we know we can die any time, but we live our lives with an expectation that we can plan for things that will happen next year….when we retire…when our children have children, etc. We don’t plan on dying – and we certainly do not plan on dying young.
Bobby went on to say talk about how he hoped to live to be 80 or 85 because “life is the most precious gift God ever made, and it should not be taken advantage of.” He also (breaking my heart) expressed his hope that he would “die in [his] sleep, because it is painless and peaceful.” I’d like to think Bobby’s death was painless, but it is hard for to me to imagine that possibility given the circumstances. In any event, it certainly wasn’t peaceful.
But even then, Bobby realized that his hope was only just that – a hope. He went on to acknowledge “I can’t control when or how I die.” An important realization, but one we have trouble acknowledging.
How did that lack of control make Bobby feel? The final line – the last thing he felt he needed to add to his journal entry – gives all the answer that is needed:
There is one other thing too, I am not afraid to die.
The words of an 8th grader. How deep was his theological understanding of resurrection of the dead when he wrote those lines? I don’t know. But I hope as he grew he continued to know that the God who gifted him with life would also be there holding him when he died.
“I am not afraid to die.” May we all have the security of God’s boundless and eternal love, the security that allows us to face death without fear.