the grass withers

Posted by jmoore


“The grass withers; the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers; the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:7-8).

We are grass.  We wither and fade away.  We will die.

I rarely think of my death.  I suppose I’m like many, if not most, of us.  Many say it is morbid.  The etymology of “morbid” refers to disease and death.  Thinking about death is indeed morbid.

As I write this, I’m sitting at a window.  I see a few intrepid leaves deciding to be among the first to fly through the autumn air and begin their descent to the ground.  In the next couple of weeks, they will be joined by a multitude of companions.  They know they have but a short time in this earthly plane.

I have addressed this consideration of one’s own death elsewhere, as has Arianna Huffington.

The Romans had a notion called memento mori, “remember your death.”  When a conquering hero returned home, a slave would stand behind him during the victory parade and say, “memento mori.”  You also will die.

I am reminded of a quote from one of Carlos Castaneda’s books, which admittedly are of dubious veracity.  (I offer this as poetry, which has its own truth.)  In his desert wanderings, Don Juan Matus counsels him, “‘The thing to do when you’re impatient,’ he proceeded, ‘is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death.  An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you.’” (Journey to Ixtlan, 34)

An immense amount of pettiness.

“Lord, let me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is” (Psalm 39:4).

I ask myself, “Would I like to know my time of death?”  Would it be an awareness resulting in even more pettiness?  What effect would it have on me, learning the hour of my final curtain call?  Until that moment, would I live carelessly or carefully?  (“Carefully” as in “filled with care.”)  Would it engender the need to tread the earth lightly?  Would it underscore the need to hold others gently?

And honestly—do I really need that awareness to know how fleeting my life is?

After all, any of us could be dead tonight.