~the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26)
About two weeks before I left Ukraine, the first girl I trained--Sister Nevers--gave me a note to read on the airplane home. "Don't you dare open it before then," she warned.
Being the good girl that I am, I obeyed.
And when I read it on the airplane, I cried. [FYI: the couple from St. Petersburg sitting next to me thought I was crazy.]
If you've ever read something from Sister Nevers, you know what a wonderful writer she is. Her words penetrate and her sentences are saturated with sass and love. Each word was meant for a perfect going-home letter--just for me--but there is one part that has sung to me more than anything.
In the letter, she quoted a song that is now one of my favorites. It's called "Learning How to Die" by Jon Foreman. (You can listen to it here.)
"I'm gonna miss you.
I'm gonna miss you when you're gone.
She said, 'I love you. I'm gonna miss hearing your songs.'
And I said, 'Please--don't talk about the end
Don't talk about how every living thing goes away.'
She said, 'Friend,
All along, thought I'd been learning how to take,
How to bend, not how to break,
How to laugh not how to cry.
But really, I've been learning how to die."
It's beautiful and thought-provoking. So often we think that in order to be strong, we can't break. We have to laugh, not cry. But really, we're all just learning how to die. In breaking and crying, we also find healing and love. We find transformation. We find new beginnings.
By accepting and embracing the concepts of change and death, we are able to live life more fully. And I don't mean in the "you only live once," party and live-it-up context. But it also doesn't mean that we live in a fatalistic, "the end is near" mindset.
It's like an autumn afternoon. We can sense darkness and winter in the air, but it doesn't take away the beauty and glory of fall's colors or its golden sunlight. We don't panic when we watch autumn maple leaves sail to the ground, or when we watch the fading colors of a sunset. Instead, we savor it.
Learning how to die means we live deliberately, as Thoreau put it. We live life to its fullest meaning. We give of ourselves. We love. We reach out and lift. We accept failure with dignity. We forgive our enemies. Enjoy sunsets. Cry with the broken-hearted and rejoice with those that rejoice. We live life in a way that we'll be unafraid of death when it comes. We live the abundant life so that death will be sweet and rich--like vibrant autumn leaves on the ground.
There is no need to be afraid of the end.
We've come to earth to live . . . but we've come to earth to die. Ultimately, we've come to earth to go home.
We learn how to live when we learn how to die. We learn how to die when we learn how to love.
No need to say good-bye.
No need to be afraid.
It's like coming home.
"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." --John 10:10