A lot of people died this summer.
A lot of people die every summer, but what I mean is that a lot of people that I knew died in the past few months – more than during any other period of my life that I can remember. Stephanie Wood/Perfect and family. John Bower. Lynda Varner. Bethany Rehrer and her family. These are not names. These are people. People I knew.
I also took a week-long seminary class called “Hospital Chaplaincy” this summer. I spent five six-hour days in various areas and wards of a major hospital in Los Angeles. The ICU. The Burn Ward. The Jail Ward. The Cancer Center. The morgue. The crematorium. I saw a corpse in a bag in one of the many morgue freezers. I saw a small package containing the remains of an aborted baby. I held a tiny paper bag containing the remains of a cremated baby. I prayed over people in comas, hugged weeping parents, talked to frazzled nurses, listened to ICU nurses talk (and cry) about having to pull the plug on patients who were in a vegetative state, and read books about doing funerals and ministering to the sick and dying.
I realized that everyone in the hospital has some view of spirituality. You have to, or you won’t survive. Death forces you to think about what’s after life, even if you don’t believe in an afterlife. It makes us think about the purpose of life, the length of eternity, the judgment of God, and the state of our souls. It makes us think about what we love, how we spend our time, and what God is calling us to change about our lives. It calls us — all of us — to repentance. And this is a good thing.
I don’t necessarily need to write about the lessons that I learned. To some extent, you know from your own experience what they are. You know what you think about when someone that you know dies, or even when you attend the funeral of someone that you barely knew. For me, two words can sum up the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart through being around death this summer: personal repentance.
I was especially impacted by Ecclesiastes 7:2. This was indisputably the verse of the summer for me, not necessarily because I chose for it to be, but because the Lord made it so. I thought about it all the time. I couldn’t not think about it. And it was good to think about.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
As the summer went on, I wanted to communicate to myself what I had learned. I wanted to meditate on the lessons the Lord had taught me so that they would be engraved unerasably on my heart. I wanted to be the “living” who “takes it to heart.” I wanted to exhort my own soul so as not to forget what Satan loves to make so forgettable – my own death. I wanted to write about how essential and beneficial it is to linger with and ponder over death. The following poem was my attempt to do this.
It doesn’t flow like I usually like my poems to flow. Many of the stanzas are disjointed from their preceding and succeeding stanzas. But the theme is the same throughout, which was my main goal (poetically speaking). If you choose to read it, try it out loud, and try to follow the meter, which I tried to keep consistent even though there are variations.
It is good, in life, to think about death. It is good to go to the House of Mourning.