On Death

meandering path“Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.”

This sober instruction comes from the Rule of St. Benedict and is quoted twice in the current issue of Weavings  (well, three times if you include Lynne M. Deming’s introductory remarks).

In “A ‘Natural’ Monastery,” Jane Thibault and Richard Morgan suggest that many of the elements of monasticism voluntarily adopted by young people are imposed naturally on the elderly through the effects of aging.

In “Befriending Our Death: A Pilgrimage,” Wayne Simsic suggests that death can be a welcome companion giving us (healthy) perspective on life.

The repetition of the quote in both articles struck me.

I am a sprightly middle-aged man who has weathered four decades well (okay, four decades and an additional year, but who’s counting?”).

I am a runner, having raced everything from 5ks to full marathons (and even one ultramarathon). I have a lean build and a strong heart. I am fast.

My work demands long hours on my feet. Forty-five to fifty hours a week I am engaged in active and, at times, strenuous work.

I am rarely sick. In eight years I have called in sick once. I had strep throat.

Even then I felt well enough to work, I knew the antibiotic would take twenty-four hours to kick in. I was contagious, so I stayed home. But I rarely get anything more serious than a chest cold.

Just yesterday I came home from a backpacking trip in which I summited four of the high peaks in the Adirondack region of New York state. We hiked about twenty-three miles in two days. These were unmarked trails, poorly maintained and not designed for ease of travel. In the end, I was sore but satisfied.

All that to say I am as far from death as any forty-one year old could be. Active, fit, healthy.

Even so, there are reminders of my mortality. My silvered crown betrays my years, as does my receding hairline, creases around my eyes, a back that aches in the morning, a digestive system that is increasingly finicky. I am aging, despite my resistance. Each day brings me twenty-four hours closer to my impending death.

To think of it as impending seems morose. But true. Even in perfect health, I could die today. And if not today, tomorrow still hangs in the balance.

So with death on the horizon, this day of life is accepted as a gift–undeserved and full of glorious possibility.

“I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.” (Psalm 3:5, NIV). I remember reading this verse as a high school student. Since then I have tried to make this my habit. Each morning as I rub the grogginess from my eyes I remember this verse and thank God for the sleep he granted and for awakening me to a new day.


Philip Huber lives with his wife and four children in Syracuse, New York. He enjoys a long walk in the woods, a strong cup of hot tea, the smell of a wood fire in the air, and a good book in his hands. By day he is a retail manager and by night a writer. Phil blogs ataploddingpilgrimage.blogspot.com



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