When Mortality Stares Back at Us
A good friend, a few years older than me, told me this week that he just received a heart stent to open one of his 90% occluded arteries. His doctors explained that without the stent he risked suffering a massive and likely fatal heart attack at any time.
He appeared vulnerable and in shock and confessed that he felt both terrified and grateful: “My mortality stared me in the face.”
Relieved, I responded: “Thankfully, you have yet to write more chapters of your life!”
Eight years ago following cancer surgery and radiation therapy (I’m fine now), I learned two important truths. The first is that healing physically from surgery and treatment is the easier part of a post-traumatic and life threatening event, but it is very different than the emotional and spiritual healing that’s also required. The latter takes much longer and necessitates far more introspection and inner emotional, psychological, and spiritual struggle to adjust to the new reality of our lives.
Most young people don’t think much about the end of life, but as we age we realize that there are fewer years ahead of us than there are behind us. When we suffer an event as my friend did this past week, we necessarily become excruciatingly aware of our life circumstances.
Thankfully, advances in medicine have extended life expectancy substantially, and there is little doubt that my friend has been given a reprieve by the angel of death.
Twenty years ago after his father died, he told me that he had read all 150 Psalms and had found great comfort and perspective in its verse.
Tradition attributes the authorship of the Psalms to King David as an old man who had lived a full, dramatic, challenging, and often heart-breaking life.
When my friend told me about his experience reading the Psalms, I said that perhaps I ought to teach them in my community. He liked the idea but thought I was too young and though I’d experienced much in my own life already and witnessed much in the lives of the people in my community, the Psalms, he reflected, required a person of age to teach them as they ought to be taught. He believed that no young person could adequately understand them.
I put aside the idea and wonder now if I’m ready.