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The Season of Death

July 1, 2021

One of my favorite books in the Christian Bible is Ecclesiastes (Hebrew: Qoheleth). Most people are familiar with the lines “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die . . .” Hey, did The Byrds’s song just pop into your head? 

Now, we love ourselves some seasons of birth, and the times to laugh and plant and build and dance. But the seasons to die and kill and uproot and lose and mourn and war? Well, we don’t like those parts so much do we?

A time to die. That’s where I have been – we have all been – for some time now, haven’t we? Because death is not only about losing people – although many of us have lost people. Nope. Death does not confine itself to people. Death is boundless and indiscriminate, seeking plants, animals, entities, even epochs of time. On a bad day, I might visualize death as Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors or the Borg from Star Trek. And maybe on a good day I more appreciate the way Markus Zusak conceptualizes Death in his book, The Book Thief. Today, though? Today I am tired of Death. I am ready for its season to die. 

I think it is common knowledge (although perhaps the idea of common knowledge itself is a dead idea) that in this culture, we don’t do death very well. We don’t like it. We don’t process it well. We don’t make space for it. And consequently, we aren’t very well equipped when Death inevitably comes knocking. 

And yet, ready or not, Death comes. 

Death comes as a global pandemic, killing people and ways of being in the world.

Death comes as fascism, killing systems, Truth, shared stories, the vulnerable, and ties that bind us to each other.

Death comes, killing economies, sucking life from the marginalized, lonely, and even though we may think otherwise, privileged, as well.

Death kills the less tangible, too – dreams, hopes, aspirations, marriage covenants, family units.

And again, death kills people.

Death is hard because what is next is . . .  a black hole. A gaping wound. A chasm. A void. The greatest mystery. The unknown.

Where do we go as a society post-pandemic and post-fascism? Where do we go in the aftermath of end-stage capitalism? What happens when Empires and nation-states die? When entire systems break down? 

Where do we turn when our marriages end? When friendships die, and family ceases to be family? 

What happens when jobs are lost? When entire careers are wiped out? When the dreams you were pursuing vanish?

Where does love go when your favorite person dies? When the sinking sense of “never-again” takes up residence in your home, your heart, your head, settling in to your favorite comfy chair, refusing to budge.

The real and scary truth is that we cannot know. We cannot know what the other side looks like. And most of us are terribly uncomfortable with the unknown. We can tell ourselves a lot of pretty tales about resurrection and spin myths many different ways. But when we look Truth in the eye . . . when we look Death in the eye, we only find mystery, hints, suggestions, uncertainty. 

Sure, I could go on about my take on all of it – Death, resurrection, and what it all means. But I’d just be guessing like everyone else. 

So, what? 

Well, I think there is a lot of value in simply pausing and grounding in Truth. It is helpful to name the obvious. To say yes – this is a season lead by Death. And it is hard and sad and cruel and wreaks havoc.  And when we can honestly own this reality, then we can also look around and see that we are not alone in it. Here we all are . . . together . . . with each other (like it or not). And we can all wish it to go away. That’s ok. I know that’s my wish. 

For now, I return to Ecclesiastes. Perhaps life is embedded in those very verses, just as much as death. The verses are coupled together, mostly with the word “and” linking them. And suggesting that indeed, Death will leave and Birth will return. That laughter will replace our tears, healing will happen, dancing will begin again, the lost will be found, and gathering will follow scattering. Time turns. And while we wait, count me among those ready to point Death towards the exit. Bye. Don’t let the door hit ya on the way out.

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