A Cup of Coffee with Death
“What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. ~ Matthew 10:29 (the Message)
One night earlier this month, literally a thousand birds were killed when they collided with a single building in Chicago. About a week later, a single White-throated Sparrow died after colliding with the glass in the door to our garage. Comparing and contrasting the two events is telling. On the one hand feeling the shock of a thousand deaths is greater than the sadness over one. On the other hand, the personal encounter with one dead bird is more impactful than the report of many deaths elsewhere.
Since none of us can escape death, not only our own, but also the deaths of those we love, we all must find ways to cope with death’s presence. Being present with the dead, the dying, and the grieving is an occupational necessity for me. I’ve learned that I have the ability to separate my actions from the control of emotions in order to be present. Not everyone can or should do that. Some do it well, like those who respond in emergencies on a regular basis. It it right that we honor first responders for this type of bravery. It is also important that we remember that each trauma response adds a burden to carry, which if not addressed, weighs on the person in very damaging ways.
When death enters your world, even if expected, you have no choice but to have an emotional response. It is one thing to remain emotionally detached about a thousand bird deaths far away, or even one close to home. It is another thing to deal with the news of sudden deaths of innocent neighbors. Overwhelming emotion will debilitate, which is why it is critical not to deny our feelings or prescribe how you or others ought to respond to a situation. If you have made a habit of bottling your feelings, it might only take one dead bird to trigger the floodgates. That’s OK.
This is the season of the year that many ancient traditions tell us that the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest. So perhaps it is a good time to have a cup of coffee with death. The good news is that you don’t have to do that alone. Not only will God serve the coffee, the great cloud of witnesses surrounds you.
Prayer: O God, show us again the power of your presence to heal our broken hearts, knowing that yours was the first to break. Amen.