Be Nice To Me. I'm Dying. | Mary Beth Bonacci | IgnatiusInsight.com
This article originally appeared on RealLove.net on September 10, 2007.
I don't know when or from what. But I'm dying. We all are.
I've written before about how my life runs in themes. I seem to go through different periods where one particular topic seems to consistently float across my day-to-day radar.
It's not terribly cheery when that topic is death.
Most of it hasn't been out and out tragic. Just little reminders of out final destination. A radio host dedicated an hour to the question "How would you live if you knew you only had one year left?" (First answer: less television.) I heard a segment from a talk by a college, healthy-sounding college professor who indeed has only a year to live. Then a soap opera character with a terminal illness. Then a homily on "we know not the day or the hour." And then there are the anniversaries. Just this month, we commemorate the tenth anniversaries of the deaths of Princess Diana, Mother Teresa and Rich Mullins.
I spent this past weekend speaking at a Women of Grace conference with my friend Johnette Benkovic. Johnette's wonderful husband Anthony died of a brain tumor last spring, just three years after they lost their son in a tragic automobile accident.
And now, just a few minutes ago, I received a call from a good friend. The 17 year old son of his good friend was found dead in his room this morning. We're still trying to find out what happened.
When we were teenagers, my brother used to say "Be nice to me. I'm dying." I'd ask him of what he was dying, and he'd say "I don't know yet. But I'm dying."
Indeed, we all are.
It's a fundamental truth of the spiritual life that we need to be reminded of the inevitability of our own death. This ride doesn't last forever. Indeed, it doesn't last particularly long. I'm not interested in hastening my own death, but neither am I particularly interested in living forever. An eternity of the daily to-do list just doesn't appeal to me. We need the sense that we're moving toward a destination, and that one day we will actually arrive there.
But we get very distracted by the trappings of the journey. I love buying new clothes. I love decorating my house. And yet, it isn't my permanent home I'm decorating. Nor is it my permanent body. I don't like that. When I die, some poor family member of mine is going to have to schlep through this house and all of the clothing and "stuff" it contains--most of which will probably be carted off to Goodwill. A lifetime of accumulated possessions reduced to a loaded charity truck and a tax-deductible receipt.
It helps to think in those terms once in a while. It isn't pleasant, but it helps. I suspect that's why God usually starts taking all of those things away while we're still here. I see the lines start to form on my face, and I realize I can't hang on to youth or to physical appearance. It reminds me that, in the end, I can only hang on to God. And that's good.
I've written before--but it bears repeating--that we need to live our lives from the deathbed backwards. That doesn't just mean racking up a roster of good deeds. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But we weren't put on this earth simply to do good deeds. We were put here to do the will of God, to begin in this life the union we will experience with Him in the next. As we surrender ourselves to the God Who sees the Big Picture, He begins to direct our lives. He puts us where He wants us, where we should be, where we can do the most good for ourselves, our families and our world.
Over the past weekend, Johnette talked about how people who are dying, if they are open to God, often make very significant spiritual progress very quickly. I believe that. I thought I was dying once. I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. It took a while to ascertain exactly how serious it was, and what my long-term prognosis would be. It was amazing, in those first few days after I was diagnosed, how radically my priorities changed. I found myself repulsed by mass media. Couldn't stand to listen to the radio. Standing in a shopping mall I felt surrounded by trinkets, junk. It wasn't that I had thought my way to some kind of conclusion about the uselessness of media noise or consumer goods. It was visceral, instinctive, instant. I just saw it all through new eyes. Of course, once I completed treatment and realized I had every reason to expect a long, healthy life, I went back to the radio and the Banana Republic.
It's really easy to forget that I'm still dying. We all are.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Book Excerpts:
The Question of Suffering, the Response of the Cross | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Near Death, Nearer to Jesus | Interview with Fr. Benedict Groeschel
Reincarnation: The Answer of Faith | Christoph Schönborn
Murder On Campus: A Meditation On Death of the Young | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Why Do We Exist? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
From Defeat to Victory: On the Question of Evil | Alice von Hildebrand
The Cross and The Holocaust | Regis Martin
Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and television programs, including several appearances on MTV.
Mary Beth has written two books, We're on a Mission from God and Real Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications. She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series, also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award for Best Youth Curriculum.
Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women of America for 1997. Her apostolate, Real Love Incorporated is dedicated to presenting the truth about the Church's teaching about sexuality, chastity, and marriage.
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