Lately, several calls for spiritual services occasioned me to look at death in a number of faces. There was one in a squatter area where the dead person had no relative whatsoever. I was unbelieving at first but after verifying the circumstances of the dead person I shook my head in disbelief that it was actually true. We could not even find his correct name in the registry. Another face of death was that of a young father to a one-month old baby. How could a fine young man be gone too soon? Another more face is that of death of a middle-aged woman. She was perceived as to be well all along only to be discovered that she had been suffering for quite some time already. “Itinatago nya lang po sa amin, Father. Ayaw nya na ata na maging pabigat pa sya sa amin.” confessed one family member to me.
Further, the spate of killings in our country makes us really mull over death and its underlying concerns. It is staggering and record-breaking in terms of numbers and repugnance, so they claimed. Palawan is no exempt. Ganito na lang ba ang buhay? Puede na ba talagang pumatay? When death comes so easy life turns cheapie. This one must we protest. Otherwise, we ourselves will be cheapish. It is puzzling that we protest over animal rights and yet remain quiet over violation of human life. It is perplexing when we are alarmed and we even go online for protest over felled trees but just be on the sidelines when a human person is felled by riding-in-tandem assassins. May we set things straight? Let us protest first over the very first human right. Human life, that is. Let us protest because the marching order is to kill some more and much more.
On this account, let us make sense on the reality of death by way of defying it.
Other than that the sun will rise tomorrow, the other most certain in human existence is the reality of death. People die at any given time, in a place and in a way unbeknownst yet. Since death is a factual and beyond man’s power, it is everybody’s query as to how one shall face his/her own death. How do we want to die? How must we die?
One mentor would say that “Life is a constant dying.” In other words, death is not a one-time occurrence in life. It must happen regularly… until we truly and finally die. It is said that it is in dying constantly that we truly live. But then again, how do we live, or, how do we actually die?
Two ways: One, we die because of others. And two, we die for the sake of others. The former is rather beyond our control. Hence, natural or normal. The latter is somewhat voluntary. The matter is in the act of the will. More than natural, it is seen as supernatural. Heroic it is.
We die constantly because of others. When others cause harm to our person, part of us succumbed. When people besmirch our reputation, its pain causes us to languish. When trusted friends betray, our spirit is demolished into thin air. Again, this is rather beyond our control for there will always be people who are inherently antagonistic despite our friendly countenance. They could be playing this true-to-life role – “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan to beat me to keep me from being too elated.” Indeed, when people cause us this kind of death, they do serve a purpose – to keep us from being too elated, from being too proud. Thus, we must thank them just the same.
Moreover, dying could also be of one’s own making. A failed relationship is killed by infidelity. A degree or diploma could be stomped out due to negligence in studies. A professing career would be trampled upon by a taint of corruption of any kind.
When dreams and promises are interrupted, a big part of self marches into the grave.
On the other hand, we also die because of our willingness to sacrifice. This is utter selflessness, no less. For instance, Avelino decided not to proceed to college. Reason? He got himself a job instead to send his younger siblings to school and let them finish first. This is death by love of family. Likewise, Cora, a teacher by profession, went to become an overseas worker in Europe as kasambahay. She would tell me, “Kung ako lang okay na po ako, Father. Pero para po to sa mga anak ko.” Conceivably, we can say that every balikbayan box sent to the country is a testament to every OFW’s dying to self for the sake of their loved ones. And finally, Father Sharkey Brown, our beloved mentor in the seminary, was asked by his bishop, during reshuffling of assignments, to just stay put in his present station because he was into dialysis and was already physically blind. That way, the bishop contented, Father Sharkey would no longer be inconvenienced by transfer and adjustment to new environment. But Father Sharkey said, “Pull me out. This parish deserves a better priest and not a sick one.” Undeniably, Father Sharkey did die eventually. But he already died before his actual death. He did not cling to position, he did not grip to his powers. He let go of his own comforts for the sake of the greater good of the people.
The three real-life figures just died many times over even before their last breath. In fact, they were not afraid to die because they had known how to live well. A Latin maxim aptly describes this kind of dying as “Ars muriendi”. It is translated as “the art of dying”. In other words, in order to die well, one must live well. Indeed, when we live as such death will no longer have its power. “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?