Reality Check: Thoughts on Dying, Living and the stuff in the middle

I discovered today that J. D. Salinger passed away. Very sad. Not that we were buddies or close or even knew one another. But when an artist or author or public figure dies, it’s hard for us not to feel some attachment.

We associate with the works of people. Be it a building (think: Frank Lloyd Wright) or a car (Henry Ford) or a painting (Norman Rockwell) or a song (Michael Jackson). Or in this case, a book. We transfer our own life into that thing, whatever it is, and because we become a part of it, we feel close, even connected in some way, to its creator.

Catcher In the Rye was one of those timeless works (and actually one of my own favorites) that spoke personally to generations of people, young and old. Of course, Lee Harvey Oswald owning a copy and the ensuing assassination of President John F. Kennedy, did no harm to the book’s popularity.

But we identified with Salinger, maybe only in some tiny part. And we wonder what makes his work so influential, so powerful, so compelling. We think on him. We read him. We feel like we must have similarities. And we mourn him now. It’s a poignant loss, even though he was in his nineties.

I remember very well when my mother passed away. Not too very long ago. Funny how certain memories can be crystal clear, but at the same time, almost foggy. We were “expecting” her passing at some point, but nothing really prepares you fully for that.

I remember standing alone in the funeral parlor, looking at my mother lying there in her casket, and thinking about all the things I didn’t say. All the presents I forgot to give. All the visits I put off til later. All the conversations I should’ve lingered in. All the hugs I thought were trivial.

There’s nothing like death to make you think about life. There’s nothing like the sudden void that death leaves, to remind the living of how trivial this life can be at times.

But in her death, I also found a new focus. A new outlook. A different point of view and a fresh beginning. In some way, her death was part of God’s gift of continuing life. Even though we mourn the loss of someone, in their passing, God reminds us of our own mortality.

He shows us our past and reminds us of our once-optimistic gaze into our future. We feel a new start. A new foothold on things. And we tuck our old thoughts and memories and associations away into our pockets, dry our eyes and take a deep breath, and look out to the horizon, thinking about how much better things are going to be.

Today’s Scripture: Psalm 27:4 - One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

Today’s Prayer: Father, as I go through this day and as I think on the subjects of death and loss, please help me to remember the greatest gift I have is the life that You’ve given me. And please help me to seek You and Your beauty, everyday.

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