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Goretti Publications

The Question

Donald P. Goodman III

Do you remember what you ask'd me, friend? You ask'd me if I was afraid to die. That question made me think of many things; it made me think about my college days, when I read Plato telling me about the condemnation Socrates endur'd, and what he said when people ask'd him that. He didn't know what happen'd after death, but neither did he worry; no, he said that even though he didn't know the truth, the gods must know it; and since they are good, he shouldn't worry, and would trust in them. And Socrates was not the first man ask'd that question; no, it's plagu'd the mind of man for ages; nor has any answer gain'd the general agreement of mankind. "The undiscovered country"; that is true; a mystery which people cannot solve, but which we all must face before too long and learn the answer finally, in the end. And darkness always holds a mystery; our minds fill in whatever eyes don't see and make a story which will give some shape to what is otherwise a shapeless void. And so we do with death, but even more: not only is its shape conceal'd from us, but no one else can see it during life; and after someone knows what lies beyond, he can no longer tell us what he saw. And this is just the nature of our lives; we cannot know what comes when we must leave the world we've come to know; and so we fear. It's like the ancient maps which, in the west, not knowing what comes next, just let the mind fill in the details, showing scary beasts and monsters, which the real world never knew. This terror; that's the fear that built the world; the fear that led the pharoahs, long ago, to flog their slaves to build those monuments that even to this day blot out the sun in their attempt to shed some light on death; great tombs to lead them to another world, which in their terror they believ'd must be a lot like that they left behind. That fear compelled the heroes to their famous deeds; it made Achilles storm the walls of Troy, Diomedes to fight the gods themselves; their terror at what came when they should die compelled them to do things that we would note and talk about forever; in that way, they hoped to live beyond their days of death, avoiding that great pit of the unknown which could well end the world for them for good. This terror made the Romans seize the world, to get themselves an empire that would last and spread their fame for ages yet to come, so they could live forever in the songs and memories of people, far beyond the day they step beyond the world of light and into that thick blackness which conceals the undiscovered country from us all. But then, some people didn't fear at all, but not because they knew; because despair had led them not to care what came beyond. Instead, they liv'd their lives, and ate and drank, and revell'd in what time they had; what came when all their time was up was no concern as long as they were comfortable in life. But what about the poor? about the slaves? about the ones who didn't have enough? Well, there was nothing for them but despair, to grab what little they could grab, and then just suffer through it; that must be enough. And when they suffer'd, they could not rejoice; the only time they had was misery, and they had nothing to look forward to except the end of sorrow, not to joy. They were like dogs, who, when their master's kind, could live a happy life, and eat and play in comfort, knowing that there's always more, and having no concern about their deaths; but who, if they're unlucky, will be kick'd and beaten, never having food and drink enough to fill their stomachs; hungry, cold, unlov'd they live their lives until they die, and then they cease to be; their wasted lives absorbed by endless, pointless misery. And this indifference built our sorry world, the lucky resting on the backs of those who aren't so lucky; many's misery permits the decent lives of just a few; but lucky or unlucky, when we die, we need not worry what might lie beyond. And so, my friend, your question comes again: Am I afraid to die? No, I am not, 'cause I don't need to fill the details in with wild imagination; I do know what lies behind the curtain of life's end. For me, the veil was ripped apart in two, and what was hidden shown in day's full light, the sun now shining brightly on the shapes whose mysteries confounded ages past and struck so many of our ancestors with terror or despair. And when I pain, I know my pain has purpose; I am not a dog whose master takes his anger out on some poor animal; I know my pains and sufferings are not a waste of life, but just a trial I must endure on this, the road from life into the light beyond. Diomedes once fought the gods of Greece, struck Aphrodite as an enemy; but God, my God, is not some hateful foe, but rather is my friend, my closest friend, who loves me as no other can, who sees and guards me through my life, whose loving care embraces me along that winding road which leads me to my death. My suffering is real, true misery; but I know God knows all about my sorrows; he himself took all of them, and more, upon himself, becoming human in all ways but sin, including suffering. He died for me, to make up for my sins, and those of all the human race. We suffer not like dogs, but like our God, who suffer'd for us all. So am I always happy? No, I'm not; I often suffer from despair and fear, a lack of trust in what I have been told; much like a prodigy, who takes a test and knows that he has pass'd it; nonetheless, he agonizes, waiting for the score that he already knows will be an A. My comfort's not emotional; at times I feel quite happy, like a newlywed who overflows with passionate desire and love for her who gave herself to him; but just as often---possibly more so--- I'm like that couple twenty-five years on, when all the luster's been rubb'd off, and stale familiarity has now replac'd what once was pure delight; or even more, a tir'd and sad disgust with one who now exasperates much more than she delights. Oh, no; my comfort doesn't make me smile, as if it were some magic happy pill to wipe away all sadness and regret; I do feel sadness, at what makes me sad; I feel regret and guilt for what I've done which I should not have; nothing wipes away those feelings; nor do I think something should. But something can now wipe away the sins that make me feel that guilt; and I can use my guilty feelings to make up for all the wrongs that I have done to God and man. My comfort isn't that my sadness stops; it's that my sadness has a purpose, too, as much as does my happiness and joy. A hero who gives up his precious life to save another doesn't hurt the less because his suffering saves someone else; to say he does reduces what he's done and makes it selfish; no, he truly pains, but he endures the pain because it brings a good about which otherwise would die. So all that pagan sorrow, long ago, and all its heirs, still living on today, was like a hero, perishing in fire, but not to save another; in the hope that someone might remember all his pain and sing a song about it later on; or even worse, to make sure some aesthete will have a happy life before he dies, without a recompense for him himself. My sorrow, though, is sorrow with an end, which doesn't make it lesser, but which does give it a meaning which makes it worthwhile. It isn't warm and fuzzy, like a dream a little girl might have, with rainbows bright and unicorns and kittens; what a joke, a parody the world will never know! Oh, no; it hurts; it hurts as much for me as it would hurt for anybody else. But it's a pain I know is something more; although it feels like it will never end, I know that it is really very short; that God himself endur'd what I endure for me; so I can do it now, for him. This is the light that chang'd the ancient world and all mankind forever; this the light that put to flight the darkness that conceals the undiscovered country from us all. We need not struggle without hope for life; our sorrows are just covers for our joy, which ending will be thrown off to the wind to make a way for joy without an end or any alloy. So I don't fear death or any suffering in life. I love my sorrows, for they are the keys I need to open up the gates to lasting joy. No, Faith does not eliminate all pain; but it gives meaning to it; I do know what happens after death, for God has told it all, and he is good; and so I trust.