Jul 8, 2020

Death and Kobe Bryant

On account of the helicopter crash that claimed the life of Kobe Bryant and eight other wonderful lives, a long-lost friend based in the USA surprised me with nagging questions about death. After almost two decades of non-contact, this friend has managed to bother me. While the basketball legend is not really personal to both of us, but we mourn nonetheless the passing away of this legend, together with the whole world at that. Imagine how impactful Kobe (and his kind of death) was that friends of two decades from the other side of the globe would reconnect with each other again. This is not unusual actually, especially in the Filipino setting, that reunion happens in wakes and funerals – at death.

Going back to my long-lost friend, her questions literally excited me as it irritated me since I could not really find the correct answers to appease her or to make her at peace in times of death. “Hello! Can I ask you what does the Bible say about death?… I mean, naisip ko lang,  may mga mabuting tao na maagang namamatay. Why?… Meron namang ang sama sama tapos buhay pa.. Or hindi mamatay-matay. Bakit ganun?” Can anybody provide an answer?

And if we could really cite texts from the Bible will it also merit satisfaction to a grieving heart? The Bible says, “Death is not the end”(Mt. 25); “We don’t have to die alone” (Jn. 14); “Heaven will be better than anything we can imagine” (1 Cor 2)… etc…. etc. Has it lightened a burden? Not a bit. Some others would try to be philosophical about death hoping to appear strong. For Socrates and his student Plato, the body is a prison for the soul and death is the means of freedom for the soul. For the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, death is nothing. Meaning, we are able to overcome death when we understand ourselves and the necessity of things and of God. “The more a person is guided by reason the less one would think of death.” Meanwhile, contemporary thinker Bernard Williams argued that we would eventually run out of reasons to live, and then death would cease to be a misfortune. But other theorists would refute Williams. Life is complex and rich, you will never run out of creative ways and approaches to life. We can go on and on philosophizing and spiritualizing and all those “things and zings” to confront death but are we really making a dent to ease its pain and the anguish of premature death like that of Kobe Bryant?

We would rather face the truth about death than sugarcoat it. Death is both painful and fearful. All efforts of science and technology cannot calm anxieties brought about by our eventual separation from each other and body extinction. Even imagination or any make-believe efforts are completely helpless in the face of death. (Gaudium et Spes) The so-called fountain of youth is only a heartrending illusion. Nobody escapes death. Perhaps even worse, the more we ask questions about death the more hurtful it becomes. Why such kind of death? Why so young? Why together with a daughter or the entire family? Again, death it is. We rebel against it. It is so cruel… and evil.

In the Christian viewpoint, death is a mystery. You will know something about it, but could not truly know it. And since we could not fully understand it, we would also try how to cope with it.  Hence, we try with comforting words, with a reassuring embrace, with a hopeful presence, with confident prayers, etc. Who knows, these gestures may also have the power to afford strength to the grieving loved ones. In the very words of Vanessa, wife, and mother to the Bryant family, “Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them.” Further, she added, “There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now… I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved.”

Still, we question why is there death? Why did God allow premature death on good people?  … And, where is God in time of harsh death? He died too. At an early age of 33. Like a criminal, at that. He embraced death, conquered it that we might arise again with him.

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