A german photographer developed a work of art that focused on death. Specifically, the artist produced photos of people when they knew their health was declining and then after they had died. The work represented a fairly diverse group of people at different ages and gave the observer background information leading up to the person’s death. The photos, one of life and the other of death, looked strikingly similar, and combined with each person’s brief life story, the whole work was quite haunting.
I found myself not particularly enjoying the work, however, and like some profound movie, it stuck with me (and bothered me) for several days. But I could not figure out why. It wasn’t that there were pictures of dead people – Leukemia cured me of any acute fear inherent in death. Nor was it the fact that most of the subjects of the piece died of cancer – I found that kind of amusing because “it’s always cancer.” And no, you aren’t allowed to find that funny unless you have dealt with it – think of it like a club. An exclusive club. Expensive, too – even with insurance.
Anyway, After a few days of mulling it over, I finally came to understand why the exhibit unnerved me to such a degree. The artist sought to celebrate both life and death, especially the latter. I am all for celebrating and cherishing life, but I will never do the same for death.
Things were not supposed to be this way. We weren’t meant to die.
Regardless of how readers of the Biblical Narrative interpret the beginning of Genesis, the anthropology is universal: our own mortality is a profound corruption. Life was given as a gift, death is the curse of our own doing.
Culture seems to be moving in a way that idolizes death, using descriptions like “a sweet release,” “a turning to peace,” and “rest.” There are even religious cliches that move in the same direction: “going to be with the Lord.”
But we weren’t meant to experience this separation from those close to us; they weren’t meant to die, and neither are we. Death is not a natural part of the human life cycle, but rather it is decidedly un-natural. Treating death as anything else robs our ability to mourn, feel the pain inherent in death and separation, AND experience life to the fullest.
Life is all we have right now, and death is an abrupt end. Seek to live a full life. Don’t fear death, but hate it – because it is a curse.