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Sunday, February 21, 2016

"I Want To Die Easy"

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A rabbi was once asked, “Why do we in this life always have to be faced with the fact that we must all soon die?”

His answer was, “So that we will truly appreciate the value and preciousness of our time here on this earth, and make the most of every moment.”

My father came from a family plagued by untimely deaths. His mother died at age 35 as a result of complications from her fourth pregnancy, when my Dad was only three years old. And that was the third of my grandfather Dan Yoder’s wives to have died as young women in their prime.

The first one, Lucy, died of measles at age 23, leaving him with two children, John and Anna. Then their baby Anna also died of measles on the day of her mother’s burial.

My grandfather’s next wife, Rebecca, died at age 29 of tuberculosis, leaving six children behind, the youngest of whom also died of tuberculosis within six weeks of her mother’s death. Then wife number three, my grandmother Elizabeth, lost what would have been her fourth child in the childbirth that claimed her own life. 

Death was an all too familiar part of rural midwestern life over a hundred years ago, and my family’s story was no exception. One of the blessings I have inherited from that is the realization that I have only so much good time left, and that I want to die used up and somehow “finished” to the greatest extent possible.

For me, that means investing as much of what little influence I have for good, and for God, here on earth as possible for as long as possible. When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” I believe it was not so much as an expression of despair as a declaration of a life mission accomplished, so that he could, at age 33, say, "Into your hands I commit my spirit". Those words, from Psalm 31:5, are part of a prayer every Hebrew child was taught to pray at bedtime, as in “now I lay me down to sleep”.

I hope that end-of-the-day rest can be accompanied by as little physical agony as possible, but I know I can't control that. But when that day comes, I hope I can be surrounded by those who love me and who will lovingly release me into God's good care.

As in the words of the Negro spiritual, "I want to die easy when I die."

I wrote the following as a reflection on my 75th birthday:

Can an old man continue to see visions and dream dreams

and finally lay himself down to sleep
well content when his time comes
feeling finished and fulfilled
at winter's end and eager to
welcome eternal spring?
yes, shalom
yes, peace
Yes

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