“An unexamined life is not worth living” (Socrates)
It was the great German philosopher, Martin Heidegger who wrote in his famous philosophical book, ‘Being and Time’, that man is a being unto death. This means that as soon as one is born, one is old enough to die.
The philosophical assertion above suggests that everyday one gradually draws close to one’s end. But the nature of this end, no one knows. Yet, it is a truth that is supposed to bring us to our knees. This should us understand our fragility and frailty. “Both wise and fool must both die.” Says the sage. But where and how, is never certain.
One evening, my Mom came back home from her usual trade, looking sober and dejected. This made us sense that something was wrong somewhere. The immediate thought was that she had had one of those slow business days. But soon after, we were proven wrong. She told us that she could not believe what she saw and heard that day. For her, it was an incident that brought her to her knees, and made her realize deeper how frail, and fragile human life is.
According to her, on that fateful evening when she was gradually ending her day’s business, suddenly there was a heated quarrel between two men. It was between one of the most famous traders in the market, and a poor man, who was not too far away from our neighborhood. The trader had seized the poor man, and was raining all kinds of threats on him. “I will deal with you. Do you know me? Do you know who I am?” The poor man on bent knees grabbed some sand from the ground, showed the trader and said, “This is who you are.” My Mom said this action silenced everyone, and all walked silently away from the scene.
Although, we weren’t in the scene of the incident, the report left us sober through the night. As I pondered over the incident, I said to myself, “What kind of death awaits me?”
Since I was born, I have noticed a lot of changes in my growth patterns, as well as in my interpersonal relationships. There are those who think the little boy of yesterday has grown into a full man. Some others have branded me ‘intelligent’, and ‘spiritually conscious’.
These words, beyond acknowledging who I am, and what I have become, or what I hope to be someday, bring me closer to the reality of now having my own scene on the stage called life. One day, I will be out of that stage. But how will I leave the stage? When will I leave?
Thus, like others who have gone before me, my body may become food for termites; my lovely skin will someday become sand, and whatever is left of me become dry bones! Why then do I struggle so much?
If the reality of death, has never stared you in the face, you have not started living. You may only exist, but you are far from living. If you’ve never felt the loss of a loved one, you might not truly appreciate life.
But despite such a painful reality that confronts us as soon as we are born, yet very often, when the corpse of another is carried past, we sometimes regard it with indifference.
When we were much younger, we heard terrifying tales of the three days darkness; a three days rapture which many predicted would be the end of the world. It was to take place on the first day of the year 2000, the new millennium.
Many sold their businesses, houses, lands, etc. Some resigned from their places of work. Many were duped. Many died from fear of the unknown even before the stipulated date of the three days darkness. On that very night of December 31st, 1999, churches were full to the brim. Christians, Muslims, Traditionists, pagans, unbelievers, all flooded to their churches that night. Many felt it would be better to experience rapture in the house of God than elsewhere.
But today, twenty years later, the world as we know it is yet to end. But this is not to say that the world does not end for many people each day.
Many think the world ends in sickness, accidents, natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, explosions, terrorism, etc. Indeed, the world ends everyday! And for those who die, their plans that day come to nothing.
In the midst of the global pandemic that has brought the world, both the mighty and low, on bended knees, the world is still not spared of other pandemics. There’s insecurity; accidents; natural disasters, like flood, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. What about the deadly explosion in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon on August 4, 2020?
Jesus Christ says in scriptures that the end times will come like a thief in the night. Some will be taken, others left. Are the happenings in our world today suggesting that the world is coming to and end?
Just as the world solemnly marked the 75th anniversary of the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, during World War II that claimed thousands of human lives, and shattered generations forever, Lebanon’s history in the midst of a current global pandemic was changed forever. For many, it was the result of government carelessness. For others, a suspected attack. But whatever be the case, the world ended for those who died.
As I ponder over this stage play called life, I have asked myself severally, Where will I die? How will I die? From Lebanon to South Sudan, USA, Iraq, Philippines, Iran, Brazil, Nigeria, Italy, Cameroon, France, Mali, Australia, etc. In fact, from one end of the world to the next, the world ends everyday for many people; it ends in frightening and terrifying ways for some, and peaceably for others.
Survivors of the Lebanon explosion have been sharing their traumatic experiences. Some said, “I can’t believe I’m still alive.” “This was very massive!” “Devastation beyond any description.” ‘It was a disaster!” “People are going to sleep without windows.” “The glass cut me.” (Aljazeera news, August 4th, 2020).
Two of those experiences really touched me. Firstly, “Inside the crowded lobby, a family got the news that their relative was dead. A young woman, bent over in anguish, spread her arms open to an infant child and said, ‘Youssef, dad is in heaven.'”(Aljazeera news, August 4th, 2020). Oh, death, where is your sting? Truly, death is not the end. For the righteous, his soul is at peace.
Secondly, were the words of a young man to his bride-to-be after losing her to the Lebanon explosion. In mournful tribute he said, “Our wedding was supposed to be on 6/6/2021. You were preparing our new home, choosing the furniture you like, getting ready for our new life together. But you left me too early. Your wedding is no longer on 6/6/2021, but it will be tomorrow my dear. Everything that you wanted at the wedding will be there except I won’t get to see you in your white dress. You have broken my back my love, and burnt the love of my heart. There is no more taste to life after you.”
In Lebanon, some were praying, some were having fun, some were going about their day-to-day activities. Hopes were high. Plans were in top gear. But suddenly, the world ended.
When my world ends, where will death meet me? Will my soul, like the souls of the righteous be at peace? Or like the unrighteous, in anguish?
Think about it!
© Israel GodsPower ANAWEOKHAI, MSP. August 2020.
Israel GodsPower ANAWEOKHAI is a Catholic Priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul. He is currently on mission in the Archdiocese of Douala, Cameroon.