I can't seem to avoid this topic. Besides Senator Ted Kennedy, the news has also highlighted the recent passing of South Korean president and Nobel laureate Kim Dae-jung, author Dominick Dunne, 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt, columnist Robert Novak, theologian Geoffrey Bromiley . . . the list goes on and on. A couple days ago I remembered what would have been my father's 70th birthday, had he not died in 1998. He has been gone now for almost a third of my life, and I still grieve his absence. And just last night I learned that a high school classmate had been killed in a car accident this past weekend, leaving behind her husband, daughter and son. So sad.
I read a lot of the Kennedy coverage yesterday, and the article that jumped out at me most was this one in the New York Times, because it gives insight into how Kennedy prepared to die. He was a "man who in his final months was at peace with the end of his life and grateful for the chance to savor the salty air and the company of loved ones." He spent time with family at dinners and singalongs, and he told friends, "Every day is a gift" and "I've had a wonderful life." He ate ice cream and watched James Bond movies and 24 episodes. The article makes brief mention of Kennedy's growing reliance on his faith in his later years. He was described as "someone who had a fierce determination to live, but who was not afraid to die."
All this reflection on death makes me wonder if I'm ready to die, or if I really live my life like I could die anytime. I don't mean that I'm afraid to die, but I feel like I should be thinking more strategically, more intentionally, about everything I want to do before I die and focus on that. Do I spend too much time on stuff that doesn't really matter and that I should just quit doing? What should I be doing that has eternal value?
I'm reminded that Henri Nouwen wrote somewhere that death brings us into solidarity with all humanity. All of us are part of the same human community that journeys this earthly life together. All of us are mortal, and our time here is brief. I was reading Facebook comments about our classmate, and one of the things that struck me is that even though many of us didn't know her well in high school, all of us feel a sense of loss. It doesn't matter if we perceived each other back then as jocks or nerds or partiers or outcasts - nineteen years later, we're just people, all aware of our own mortality. John Dunne wrote, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind." So we grieve our classmate, and we are reminded of our connections with each other. And we pray for one another for comfort and hope.