Our five-year-old daughter Maggie is, to my great delight, a very independent self-entertainer. She can easily create and populate her own little worlds with all sorts of imaginative characters. (Before you become too envious, the creation of these “little” worlds often involves the dumping out of every drawer and shelf in her room, and cleaning up is not her strong suit.) She is greatly skilled in the arts of blanket fort building, block city building and, most importantly, paper cutting. So when a friend recommended a book chocked full of “easy crafts,” I happily procured the book for her. (It’s a great book made by Kumon—My Book of Easy Crafts available on Amazon for only $6.95 if you are interested.) Now if you don’t have young children, let me interpret “easy craft” for you. “Easy” can be translated as effortless for anyone over the age of twenty-five and therefore entirely too old for making a “craft” which can be translated as a task usually requiring a large amount of tape, glue, and string and which has no purpose other than occupying you, and occasionally your kid, and then will become a serious storage issue. So…in the late afternoon of a recent icy, gray day Maggie and I sat on the schoolroom floor cutting, taping, and stringing. We were creating a school of fish and hooks with which to capture them. I had finished a few fish, and Maggie was happily chatting about her plans. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when she sweetly chirped to her new companions, “I’m going to catch some fish and put them in my boat to die so we can eat them.” The contrast between her innocent sing-song tone and the grimness of her words was startling and left me struck by the inevitability of death.
There are, of course, the rather obvious examples of death—the sanitized versions cleaned up and plastic wrapped in our grocery store meat department, the messy (and sometimes stinky) examples on the side of the highway, and the grim reaper waiting at the end of each of our lifetimes. But what struck me was that while we see death as something to be avoided and mourned, it is weaved into every facet of life. For one thing, in many cases, to live something else has to die. We are vegetarians (most of the time) but even we must kill plants in various forms in order to survive. Some of the world’s most admired animals couldn’t live without meat and often that meat looks really cute and cuddly right before it gets gobbled up. Death is even woven into our homes. The house or apartment in which you live was at least partly constructed by wood that came from dead trees. Obviously I wouldn’t put plants in the same category as animals or people but when you see a pattern recurring again and again, you have to consider whether God is speaking. And just what is He trying to say?
Frankly, I am not really sure. Maybe God is giving us a gentle reminder of the end that is coming for us all. Like little post-it notes carpeting the face of creation reminding us that “This too shall pass.” This could add a rather grim dimension to our enjoyment of the world around us, but it doesn’t have to. Instead of being depressed by these tokens of the macabre, perhaps we should be grateful for God’s reminding us that death is waiting for us all. This knowledge can add an element of sweetness to each moment we experience, knowing that there are only a finite number of them. So the next time one of your house plants dies or you see a graceful gazelle bite the dust under the power of a lion’s jaws on a nature show, just remember that death is stalking you in the tall grass as well. And may it inspire us to savor life and, most of all, to better prepare ourselves for judgment day.