One of the classes I took in university towards my minor in Religious Studies was Buddhism. My instructor was a Buddhist nun from Singapore, and I can clearly remember her standing in front of the class with her shaved head and gray robes, speaking [what sounded to us like] garbled English mixed with Sanskrit vocabulary. We students sometimes couldn’t tell the difference until she started writing the word on the board. (“OH! She’s saying ‘cyclic existence.’ Got it.” * entire class scribbles notes furiously * What I wouldn’t give to go back with my current level of Singlish!)
One day, she was very excited as class began. Halloween was coming! It wasn’t the holiday that made her happy. She and her roommate, also a Buddhist, had been eager to buy a skeleton decoration for their apartment, but they hadn’t been able to find one in the U.S. until now, right before Halloween.
And why did they want a skeleton? They planned to hang their macabre friend in a prominent place in their little apartment in order to be reminded each day that:
This life is fleeting.
Death is coming.
Probably sooner than we think.
I was so struck by this. Honestly, her excitement about having a skeleton to remind her of her own mortality made a deep impression on me. It’s probably the thing I remember best from that class.
Why is this important?
Because we forget. We want this life to go on. We act like this house, this birthday party, this blog post will be our life forever. We imagine we have all the time in the world.
During one of our times in the U.S., we had neighbors from Sudan. The mom was talking with me one day and said there is a Muslim proverb that talks about not building your house on a bridge. (I tried Googling it recently, and… hmmm… maybe it’s not a Muslim saying?) Anyway, it essentially means:
Don’t invest in something that doesn’t last.
Death is coming.
Eternity is just a few steps away.
Again, I was really impressed by this. It has stuck with me over the years since that conversation.
I’m not Buddhist or Muslim, but Christian. So, I’ve had lots of sermons and Bible verses to remind me that this current life is not going to last. That knowledge is supposed to shape my time here on earth.
Death is coming.
Do what will matter in the long run.
Use your life for things that have an impact beyond your years here.
During this season of Lent especially, we Christians are also reminded of the hope and joy we have, even though death is coming. We don’t need to focus on the things of this life because a better, more important one awaits.
No matter what you might believe, it seems that we all need to be reminded not to get caught up in things that won’t matter after we’re gone. How do we remind ourselves of this? I mean, without buying a skeleton to hang on the dining room wall?
When I think about it, we really don’t need to search very hard for reminders. Every day, we encounter death. A loved one gets a terminal illness, a celebrity passes away, a terrorist attack or natural disaster takes lives, and we are confronted with the end of someone’s mortal walk.
Those are all difficult things, and make us grieve. But, I think they can also be reminders to all of us to make our short days count.