Peace, one and all…
Does death bring an end to our travels, or will we continue to walk amidst the silent halls of reflection? Is death the end of all thought, or will we sit in the quiet of our graves and ponder the meanings of our lives? Is death merely a descent into blank nothingness, or is there a place of gathering in the great beyond?
In truth, I do not know the answer to these weighty questions because I have no experiential knowledge of death (or at least none that I consciously recall). But, I do know that one day an end will come to this passing stage-play of me. This performance that I am shall end, and my final curtain will fall. I have accepted this; death is a natural part of life after all. In any case, it will happen whether I want it to or not!
But, what does death really mean? What does it signify for us as human beings?
Death, of course, has many meanings. It speaks of endings, as it speaks of moving beyond this world of trial and test. Death speaks of going out alone into the long night. It speaks of crossing the dark void to whatever lies beyond it. It speaks of a return to our home, our point of origin beyond all conscious thought.
But, lest you think me morbid, death also speaks of life. This is not merely because, as a Muslim, I do not believe that death is the end of existence. It is also because death teaches us that we should strive to live each moment as though it were our last. As indeed, it could well be! Death, then, is time’s dour handmaiden – reminding us that each moment must be felt, experienced and lived.
Death is the great leveller. The rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, all of them will go down into Shoal, all of them will be laid to rest in the silent bosom of mother earth. Death is the great giving back. As we came into this world, so shall we leave it: naked, with naught but the skin that God gave us.
The grave is the place of truth. It speaks truth to all who pass by, making null and void the lies that we weave in our foolishness. We can take no money to that place. Neither can we take fame, or power, or strength, or reputation. There is but one thing we can take and that is goodness. The only things we take with us into the realm beyond this one are deeds of love and words of love.
Perhaps this is why the Islamic tradition encourages constant reflection on death. I don’t mean to say that we should meditate on death sorrowfully and with morbid fascination. Rather, death should be welcomed as one more stage of our journey, as a long-expected and welcome guest. If death is a house-guest, then we should prepare for his arrival now. Indeed, let us lay the table of our selves with deeds of goodness and thoughts of love whilst there is still time.
Image credit: Wikipedia