My mom died a year ago today. Yesterday I attended a memorial service for my best friend’s mom, who died this past February. Also in February, Leonard Nimoy took a final bow and exited stage left. Most recently — just last Thursday — another star went out, and it was one that shone brilliantly in the sky for so many of us.
Sir Terry Pratchett finally got to meet one of his key characters. I like to think that, for him, it might have been like meeting an old friend — and sadly, a visitor he’s been expecting for quite a while now. We fans know that Death personally attends the passing of wizards.
And Terry Pratchett was a wizard beyond compare.
If you don’t know the name, if you’ve never read the books, you’ve missed out on one of the greatest joys the literary world has to offer. Pratchett’s Discworld books are the ones I’d take to that desert isle, the ones I re-read — all of them — every few years or so.
I’ve written about Discworld before. And specifically about Soul Music, one of my favorites in the series. You should read those posts to learn a bit more about that mythical, magical world. I’m not going to discuss the books today. (I am going to schedule a memorial re-read in the very near future, and that may lead to yet more posts.)
Today is more a brief rumination on death. And life.
I’m at that age where, not only are parents slipping off the sandbar, but even some of my peers have lost their footing and been washed away by the fast-moving river. That life ends is one of the things that unites us all, that comes to us all.
Most of us see it happening around us before it visits us personally. Some of us see it around us all too much. And a few it visits before they really even get started trying to figure out what life is. Those quick exits can be the hardest for those who see them.
When we say that someone “lived a good long life” we acknowledge the inevitability — the ebb and flow — of life. Nothing grows forever; all clocks stop. There are seasons and ages of life; death is just the final act.
But death is not so important as life. It serves only to remind us how important life is. Each clock has only so many ticks; spend them wisely; make them count.
Remember: your expiration date is hidden from view! It could come at any moment.
When we remember an expired soul we loved, in some sense they live on in our hearts. When we imagine a conversation, when we imagine what they’d say, in some sense they are with us. There is a beautiful piece I love about how the best place to bury a good dog is in your heart.
Terry Pratchett certainly lives on with us in the pages of his books. Leonard Nimoy remains with us in his work as well.
And what matters — what really matters — are those gifts, those life-long gifts, they gave us. That is true for all those we love, what matters is the time we shared and the gifts we give.
There is an idea that pops up time and again. It’s expressed explicitly in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Pratchett’s Soul Music and many other places. And that truth is expressed in fiction, it’s also believed by many of the science-minded. Rather than a true idea, it may even be a true fact.
Life finds a way.
Life may be a fundamental aspect of the universe. Some believe that, given enough energy and time, life always arises. When we finally get out there and look around, we’ll find it everywhere.
But life that knows it alive, life that hears and acknowledges the ticking clock, may be rare and precious, an oasis, not of water, but of minds. To reach the point where we wonder about our place in the universe, to ponder our stewardship, this may be a special gift.
Life finds a way; life persists.
Yet it comes with costs; one of which is the final toll.
We arrive; we abide; ultimately we depart.
Those left behind rightfully mourn those the river washes away, but we must celebrate and honor those who still stand on the sandbar with us. They matter most. What you do today matters most.
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is almost over. March 20th (this coming Friday) is the Vernal Equinox, which officially marks the beginning of Spring and light.
In the midst of death and loss, we’re reminded that life continues, that life finds a way, that it is a gift to be lived to the fullest every tick of the clock.
Requiescat in pace, Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015.