Are your affairs in order – now?

If you died today, how would people find your office, your bedroom, your bookshelves?

What would happen with your email, your social media, your bank accounts?

Who would you have wanted to forgive? To pay back? To return to with gratitude?

Many people cannot die well because of leading lives that are not yet in any meaningful order.

Before I take a trip, I often organize my bedroom and office so that – were I to die during the trip – my possessions would reflect my priorities and the order in which I had them would (hopefully) be a reflection of my soul when I had left them.

“Putting our affairs in order” has become an idiom for a one-time event when, in fact, we are all meant to put our affairs into order each day.

Augustine even described peace as “the tranquility of order.”

And so, if we want to eventually rest in peace, then we’ll need to live our lives in order.

At the End of Life, the Artist is Necessary

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word “clinical” may denote “expressing no emotion or feelings” or “showing no character and warmth.” The sentence that is given to illustrate its meaning is this: “We were going to paint our kitchen white, but we decided that would look too clinical.”

Do you ever wonder why hospitals and doctor’s offices are so drab? Why does there seem to be so little attention paid to aesthetics? What impact does this have on doctors, nurses, patients, and visitors?

One day, Cecily Saunders, the British pioneer of modern-day hospice care, was “magnetically drawn” to an oil painting in a gallery window. She was so taken by it that she parked her car and entered the gallery moments before they were closing on the last day of the exhibition. Cecily Saunders moved eagerly from painting to painting. The blue Crucifixion had been the piece to catch her eye from the window, but the piece she impulsively chose to purchase was of ‘Christ Calming the Waters.’

The following day, she wrote the following to the artist, Marian Bohusz-Szyszko:

Continue reading

What if you embrace the discordant note?

Most people know that Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the world’s most renowned composers, but not many know that, instead of dying on this date in 1827 at age 56, Beethoven almost died before he was born.

Several years ago, this 15-minute short film called Crescendo was released. I saw an early screening of it at the G.K. Chesterton conference hosted by the film’s producer Jason Jones. (For more about that conference, including Jason’s personal story he shared there, click to my post about it here.)

Asked about the extent of creative license he took with the film, Jason told an interviewer, “There’s one piece of fiction. But Beethoven’s father was indeed an alcoholic, he was abusive, he was a philanderer. And Beethoven’s mother had written in her diary that she wanted an abortion and she was suicidal and depressed.”

Continue reading

If You Can Tell A Story

Is it really possible to blog about death in a way that is consistently uplifting and enlivening every single day of the year?

It’s certainly a challenge.

And is it possible to tell edifying stories about the difficult, messy, and painful realities of life with grit and sincerity?

Not only is it possible. It’s vitally necessary.

Continue reading

An Endearing Place to Suffer

Life is sure to involve some degree of hardship, inconvenience, and suffering. Have you thought about where you might most like to endure it?

Amos Oz ends his little gem of a book Dear Zealots: Letters from a Divided Land with this:

Now comes a little confession: I love Israel even when I cannot stand it. If I have to fall over in the street one day, I would like it to happen on a street in Israel. Not in London, not in Paris, not in Berlin or New York. Here people will come over immediately and pick me up. (Granted, once I’m back on my feet, there will probably be quite a few who will be happy to see me fall down again.) […] I like being a citizen of a country where there are eight and a half million prime ministers, eight and a half million prophets, eight and a half million messiahs. Each of us has our own personal formula for redemption, or at least for a solution. Everyone shouts and few listen. It’s never boring here. It is vexing, galling, disappointing, sometimes frustrating and infuriating, but almost always fascinating and exciting. What I have seen here in my lifetime is far less, yet also far more, than what my parents and their parents ever dreamed of.

Now consider extending the hypothetical from “If I have to fall over in the street one day, …” to any number of hypotheticals.

We often think about where we would most like to vacation, relax, and explore, but we seldom think about where we would most like to suffer adversity, experience hardship, or conquer our circumstances.

By thinking about what might constitute an endearing place to suffer, we’ll be sure to have our own little confessions about what and who we’ve discovered that makes our life always fascinating and exciting.

Suffering happens for us, not to us

Today an article appeared in my newsfeed titled, “Rabbi Yehuda Dukes, 39, Inspired Thousands in Health and in Sickness.” In it, I learned that Rabbi Dukes, much-loved around the world and most especially by his wife and their six children, passed away from Covid.

What I found most striking was this interview the rabbi gave in August. Upon recovering from months in a coma, Rabbi Dukes spoke over a video call about his experiences and was honest about the excruciating physical pain he faced in addition to the anguish of being separated from his family.

Continue reading

The Night George Orwell Died 71 Years Ago

George Orwell died on January 21, 1950. To commemorate the seventieth anniversary, the Orwell Foundation created a 7-minute short film about the people, events, and items surrounding his final months.

Biographer D.J. Taylor says of Orwell’s death that it is “not wholly a tragic story.” Consider the reasons why it is not only “not wholly tragic” but even, quite simply, a story.

Continue reading