Before anyone close to me had died, my early reflection on death took place most routinely sitting on gymnasium floors during Remembrance Day assemblies on November 11th each year.
I even remembering colouring pages with poppies on them in Grade 1.
These early experiences stirred my imagination in gradual and subtle ways.
As I got older, the school assemblies became more intense. Parents of soldiers who had graduated from my high school came and spoke to us about the wars in which they had died.
This morning I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1973 short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”
The story is about an idyllic town, flourishing with music, processions, decorations, horses, abundant food, flowers, bells, and so on.
The only trouble is that, in order to sustain all of this revelry and satisfaction, one child must be kept trapped in a small broom closet with no light, malnourished, naked, covered in sores, and sitting in its own excrement.
We read that, “this is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding.”
This evening I heard a physician, who is also a Roman Catholic deacon, share a story about a dying woman to whom he would bring Communion.
The 50-year-old woman had uterine cancer that had metastasized into her spine and, understanding the gravity of her condition, he found himself surprised that she was still alive each time he went to visit her.
Eventually, he decided to ask her, “Do you have something you need to do?”
This question invited an response and she answered, “Yes, I do. I need to become a Canadian citizen.”
It turns out that this woman was very close to finalizing her citizenship and needed to do so in order for her children to receive their citizenship and avoid deportation back to Hong Kong.
On hearing this, the physician-deacon phoned a citizenship judge friend of his and explained the situation. When the citizenship judge heard the request, he agreed to meet the woman the next day so that she could swear the oath.