I was there once.
At age 22, crammed into the room that had taken what seemed like miles to reach, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other tourists, I cranked my neck and head to gaze upon Michelangelo’s rendition of God giving life to Adam; an image created nearly 500 years before.
When pondering today’s post, this image came to mind despite the fact that I intend to speak not on the beginning of life, but the other end of the spectrum.
Here, in this famous painting, we see God’s hand full of robust life reaching out to Adam’s, which is more slack, obviously in need of an injection of vitality that only a creator can give. Life springs forth! And yet it is very similar to the image that will be presented at our end. Someday we, in our weakened state with outstretched hand, will grasp for something, knowing that the others who wish so much to help us…cannot. We alone can cross the finish line. They can be there, but they cannot take the final step for us any more than we can do this for others.
Having lost friends my age has forced me to consider things such as this; how even those of us surrounded by dear ones at the point of earthly end will, at some defined point, be required to move into the unknown…alone.
Recently, I shared these thoughts with a friend, and she found them unsettling. And of course they ARE unsettling; terribly unsettling. Fortunately, though, my thought was not fully formed. I hadn’t, as Paul Harvey often said, told “the rest of the story.”
The truth of the matter is that we will die alone in earthly terms, whether or not loved ones surround. There’s really no avoiding this. And the reason I’d mentioned it to my friend is that we’d been discussing times in which we’ve felt isolated, when our friends have suddenly felt more distanced, when we’ve felt disconnected from much of the world around us. My intention was to give my friend courage that these times of feeling isolated are preparing us for our earthly end — that point at which we will be alone. I wanted her to take heart in those moments of loneliness, help her realize that every suffering has a purpose that can be brought to a good.
But I wasn’t able to finish my thought; it ended prematurely. And do you know why? Because we became distracted. A child called out. Someone needed our attention. Food needed to be prepared. The phone rang. We were abruptly drawn to other things, earthly and important all, that needed us more than this unfinished thought. And so the conversation ended on an unresolved, sad note with her saying, “I don’t like hearing that.”
And of course not. Who wants to hear they’ll end this life alone? I certainly don’t. Thankfully, there is more to be said. Because while this is all true, it’s also true that just as we are letting go of our loved ones here at that point of departure, others are taking up the slack, picking up where the earthly ones left off.
I really believe that the point at which our earthly world becomes dimmer, the spiritual world that has been waiting on the other side of the thin veil separating this world from the next will be coming into focus, and we will be surrounded by other loved ones on the other side who also have been waiting; relatives, saints, our children, parents, cousins, friends, all those who have been cheering us on toward the finish line. And of course, beyond all of them, a light shining more brightly than all the others, and the intoxicatingly inviting, loving arms of the One who first set our lives in motion.
We will die alone in an earthly sense, yes. There will be a moment at which our loved ones here will not be able to travel alongside us. And that will be the precise moment at which the rest of our dear ones have arrived.
So for you, friend, my unfinished end, my sincere and fervent belief: You are never alone. Not here, and not afterward, either. All is well.
Q4U: How do you fill your empty moments with life?