Finding Life after This Death

Life has been full and so I was pleased last evening, when I surveyed the week ahead, to imagine that I could get serious about a return to this blog on a regular basis.  Then, just before signing off for the night, I learned of Osama bin Laden’s death.

My first thought was that I would not address the issue here – there being plenty of other chatter on the matter.  However, realizing that my last post had to do with Universalism, I thought perhaps it would be cheating to duck the topic.

My concern is not for bin Laden’s eternal soul, for I do not generally concern myself with eternal souls.  My concerns are for those who live in the aftermath of his death and the last ten years.

I would begin by noting the obvious.  People respond differently to death.  Even within one person there can be a variety of feelings.  This is true of every death.  It is particularly true of this one.  For myself, I know that I am feeling resignation, relief, and sadness.

I am not a pacifist, but I rarely advocate violence as a solution.  I cannot rejoice over the death of another human being.  Still, I have known for some time that it was likely that bin Laden’s life would end in violence.  This is the source of my feeling of resignation.  Given the world as it is currently configured, this death was inevitable.

To the degree that this death was inevitable, I feel a certain relief. There are some types of healing that were not going to happen until this occurred.  Being an optimist, I am hopeful that now there are new opportunities for our world to move toward wholeness and health.

Still, I am saddened to witness the many varied reactions that give evidence to the amount of pain that still exists.  My hope is tempered by the magnitude of that pain and its potential to perpetuate a cycle of violence in our world.

From a theological perspective, one of my favorite quips about Unitarian Universalism is that we are not concerned with getting people into heaven; rather, we are concerned with getting heaven into people.

I don’t know what happens when we die. On the other hand, I have a lot of thoughts about what makes life a living hell.  Hatred and fear fall into that category.  And so, to the degree that we wish to create heaven on earth, I believe we are called to find words and actions that bring love and hope into the world.

We will all have different reactions to death.  This I understand.  But I also believe that some of our reactions, no matter how understandable, will, in the long run, increase hate and fear, and thus the suffering in our world.  For example, this is one of the reasons that I think the burial at sea was a creative solution.  It avoids the suffering that would have been brought on by either some of the more gruesome suggestions that have been made, or, at the other extreme, the inadvertent creation of a pilgrimage site.

Mostly, I am finding this a good time for the practice of compassion.  For me, this means allowing myself to be touched, but not overwhelmed, by the pain of another.  I may not share the pain and thus the reactions of some other people.  Still, I can keep my heart open to them.  Still, I can remain open to the possibility of deeper understanding.  Still, I can find hope that all people have the potential to move toward more health and wholeness and that our world can move toward a more peaceful, just, and sustainable future.

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9 Responses to Finding Life after This Death

  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you for giving voice to my thoughts! I felt the same way when I heard.

  2. Ann McGregor says:

    Thank you for your words of wisdom encapsulating much of what I am feeling about the whole issue. It is an honor to have you as our pastor, my pastor…for this message is truly pastoral care of my soul!

  3. Rosemary DuRocher says:

    All day I have struggled with my ambivalent feelings about this. I do believe that violence begets violence. But, I can understand how pepole who lost loved ones must feel. You have helped me frame my feelings. Bless you. I am better for having read this.

  4. Audra says:

    Two thumbs wicked way up for this take on the situation. Thank you.

    Miss you at the Monkey.

    ((hugs))

    -Audra

  5. Mary Ann says:

    Well said, as usual, Rev. Kathy. Thank you.
    It strikes me that this is an ever-present issue in discussions about U.S. military defense. Does that kind of “strength” prevent violence or provoke more violence? And that’s an impossibly circular discussion.
    Hearing Bin Laden’s life capsulized again today, I was reminded that perhaps the greatest tragedy is that he was once a privileged, cultured young man, fully engaged in life. When he “radicalized,” and began to spew hate, he headed down a much different path. He might have been a positive leader in the Arab world, like many of the brave souls who have recently stood up to tyranny in Egypt and Yemen and Syria. To me, that loss of potential is much sadder than the death of a fairly monstrous human whose final act apparently was to try to use his own wife as a bullet shield.
    Like you, I feel this was pretty much the inevitable conclusion. We have been locked in a death march with this man for a decade. And there is a certain relief in knowing that we are no longer marching toward this day. The greater question, as always, is: What have we learned?

  6. This is amazing. Yesterday, I helped a friend who was outraged at a younger cousin’s flippant reaction to his death. My friend (obviously older and wiser) wanted her cousin to take his death more seriously instead of brushing it off. I wrote (and see if this looks familiar, please):

    “I think, what I’ve learned about history and even individual grieving is that it’s just that: individual. Like you said, she was six so the destruction and loss were just NOT heavy for her like they were for us.

    Last night didn’t mean much for ME, personally, because, again, for me, the only justice would have been for the towers to still be standing and I think that one man’s life is hardly compensation for all of those lost, especially after ten years have passed.

    BUT, I do know that over that ten year period , we, globally and nationally, have needed closure and as much as I dislike violence and killing, his passing will, probably afford MANY even those not effected directly (I was mere miles away the day it happened) a certain sense of closure and ending. I think the timing is also pretty powerful as it’s been ten years, this fall.

    As I’ve said, the only thing I hate, truly, is killing and death. Do I think it’s always (or even sometimes) the answer? No. Do I think that, in this case, it does afford people an opportunity to heal wounds and grieve and mourn? Yes.

    I think your response was open and honest and it’s something that everyone has been sharing their feelings about over the last 24 hours. Hugs!”

    Just sharing…;O)

  7. Sandy Cawthern says:

    I have an uplifting focus described by Jon Stewart : now the face of Islam will be of those who are seeking democracy.

  8. Ross Payne says:

    Well said, Kathy, on a most difficult topic. Glad you decided not to duck it.

  9. Hal Issen says:

    Well said. My understanding of Universalism is that we are all born in a state of grace, but our spirituality depends upon the choices we make in life. In my opinion, bin Laden chose a violent life, and that why his violent death was very likely, and appropriate. I think he existed on a moral plane where nothing but violence is respected. And so, I find myself indifferent to the death of the man, as I have little use for men who operate on that level. But as a symbol, I feel relief similar to learning that a cancer has been removed from someone I love. Not exactly something to cheer about, as there is always the possibility of recurrance. But definately a victory.

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