Monday, January 28, 2013

My Breathness

A few years ago I stood beside the coffin of someone I had known for more than two decades. One of the things that I noticed was the barely perceptible pull at the lips where they had been sewn shut.  Seeing that took the knowledge of the inevitability of my own death deeper into my heart. One day my lips will be sewn shut and people will be peering into my coffin.  

I have never truly felt myself invincible. Attending funerals at various intervals throughout my childhood and youth helped me know that death was a possibility. That knowing, though, was superficial and didn't penetrate into my depths.

As a senior in nursing school I did my last semester's rotation in the Emergency Department. One morning my preceptor and I assisted another nurse in turning her patient to his side. His trach proclaimed that he had some serious health problems, but had coped with them for years. A habitual glance at the monitors showed stable vital signs. A few hours later my preceptor volunteered us to do a "bag and tag" to prepare a body for the morgue to add to my educational experience. I was shocked to walk in the room and see his body. I had no idea he was dying. I tore back through my memories to determine if I had been kind, gentle & patient. I was relieved that I had been. But if I had known that my hands were going to be some of the last to touch him, would I have been even kinder? The reality of death sunk deeper into my heart at that moment.

I continued to see death throughout my career. Sometimes I fought it hard, quietly determined, focused on restoring life. Sometimes I helped ease it in, comforting the departing and the remaining. One time I raged against it. A patient died, who I knew would die, who didn't want to die, but his body gurgled to a stop anyhow. He is the only patient I ever cried over.

But death never sunk deep until I stood in the mausoleum.

I knew that if I were to die soon, there would be countless people who mourned me. I felt their ache, praying that they be spared the pain. But I also knew that in a few generations, no one would mourn. I don't miss my great grand parents. I know where just one of them is buried. I don't even know all their names.

I am not that far removed from being a skeleton whose memory is limited to name and dates. Even if my descendants research my life, they will not know my mannerisms or my character.  I am a vapor. This life will pass quickly, leaving little to no trace on humanity. There are a few hundred people on the planet who know me. Less than that have been impacted by me. Fewer still love me. The men and women who are known by millions eventually become names in history books.  How much smaller am I? I am a fool to build my significance in this life.

I haven't figured out what I am to do with this. The deep knowledge whispers to me frequently. I will soon be a skeleton. My life is as quick as a breath. Just as individual breaths go unnoticed in our body, so will I. The paradox, though, is that breaths matter. Each inhale/exhale cycle has sustained life, has contributed to health.  So I am nothing, but I am crucial. I do not matter to the world, but I matter to my family.

Perhaps I am learning this lesson because I inherited a pride that convinced me of my importance. Maybe it is to help me focus on what will last, namely the spirit of each person.  Or maybe, I'm just getting older. *gasp!* Then again, if I realize how little I am, it is a lot easier to bow to Almighty God and proclaim His glory. He alone lasts. He will never be a skeleton. It thrills me to know that some prairie woman may have camped at this very spot and read the Bible. It said the exact same thing then as it does now. God does not change. His love remains, His judgment remains. Only His word abides forever.

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,

and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

Psalm 103:13-18 NIV

copyright (c) Elizabeth, Bug's Beef. All rights reserved.

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