Remembering Our Dead
Sunday, 4th November 2018
This is an early memory of a very famous Jesuit priest and scientist: “I was five or six. My mother had snipped a few of my curls. I picked one up and held it close to the fire. The hair was burnt up in a fraction of a second. A terrible grief assailed me; I had learned that I was perishable. What grieved me then? It was this insecurity of things. At this discovery, I threw myself on the lawn and shed the bitterest tears of my existence.” You may think this was a very unusual child. In some ways he was; he was a lifelong searcher after truth and meaning but there is something of that child and that man in all of us. His name was Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardain.
But, what about this letter written to God, also by a young boy? The teacher who gave the children this exercise couldn’t have expected anything like this: “Dear God, I don’t know if I believe in you anymore. I wake up in the middle of the night and I think about dying and about how it might not be heaven. It might just be nothing forever and ever and ever. I wish I could be sure you are there or not. I can’t help thinking it’s just something people make up to make themselves feel good about dying. But I do hope you are real. I don’t mean to be rude, I just want you to know how I feel. Lots of love, Kevin.”
Again, you may think it unusual that a young child should have thoughts like these? But I’m sure many children have similar questions but never ask them or did ask them and got nowhere. I remember I thought more about death as a child than I do now when I should be thinking about it! That same Jesuit, whose curls were burnt as a child, said late in life almost the same thing as young Kevin: “At the end of the day the only real suffering is doubt. If we could be sure there is a Jesus at the other side everything would be easy.” Of course, he knew better than anyone that if we could be sure it wouldn’t be faith and it wouldn’t be hope.
During November, we will be remembering our loved ones who have died. Along with praying for them, a really good way to remember them is to live well the life we still have and love well the people still with us. It’s always easier to love those who have died. Isn’t it? I love the story of the old man travelling on a bus with a big bunch of beautiful flowers on his lap. Opposite him is a young girl who keeps looking at the flowers and looking away. The time comes for the old man to get off the bus and as he does, he turns to the young girl and says, “Here, you have them. I think my wife would like you to have them. I’ll tell her I gave them to you.” The girl accepts the flowers and watches as the old man gets off the bus and walks through the gates of a small cemetery. Now, you may think, “That’s lovely. He was bringing them to his wife!” But it may not be lovely at all! It may be guilt, pure and simple! He may never have brought her a single daisy while she was alive! And now when she doesn’t need them or want them, he’s bringing flowers all the time! In fact, he’s much better giving them to the young girl on the bus.
Shower those you love with flowers now – don’t be keeping them for the funeral!