November 4, 2005

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

The great leveler: dawning of a new experience

At the end of this All Saints/All Souls week, I relate a story shared by longtime friends. Some will think of this as just a tale. Others will view it as more like a parable.

The title of this anecdote is “What a wonderful way to explain death.” Here it is:

“A sick man turned to his physician while preparing to leave the exam room, and said, ‘Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side.’ Very quietly, the doctor said, ‘I don’t know.’

“ ‘You don’t know? You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?’

“As the doctor held the door handle, on the other side came a sound of scratching and whining. As he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room, leaping on him with an eager show of gladness.

“Turning to the patient, the doctor said, ‘Did you notice my dog? He’s never been in this room before and didn’t know what’s inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here and when the door opened, he sprang without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing: I know my Master is there and that is enough.’ ”

When internalized with faith, trust and love, the point of the story is surely enough, too. It is as calming for me as a line I shared with readers years ago: “Death is the dawning of a new experience.”

Death is life’s ultimate transition and, according to Mark Twain, “a great leveler” since it happens to everyone. At the moment of birth, the only thing we know for certain about the newborn is that some day he or she will die. For the newborn, birth is also the “dawning of a new experience.” Isn’t it interesting that the prospect of death is the last thing we would think of at the time new life blesses our lives—unless, of course, the newborn’s life is immediately in jeopardy?

The infant has known only the world of the womb—and cries when first appearing. Hopefully, at the moment of my death, the opposite will happen. How could I keep from smiling—at least inwardly—because, as the last line of the St. Francis of Assisi Peace Song says, “… in dying we are born to eternal life.” May the angels and saints greet us all into the kingdom of God.

Meanwhile, God’s laws and this paraphrase of Abraham Lincoln’s words are good guidelines: “May we all say or do nothing but what we are willing to live by and, if it be the pleasure of Almighty God, to die by.”

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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