Advenire. The Latin word for Advent. “To arrive.” I feel the darkening of days. Elsewhere, the leaves are turning orange, then brown, then falling. And soon, the world will sleep. And I’m looking at dying, and death. Of what it means to be there and stay even when the lights go out. Of the paradox that is Advent, of things ending, of arrivals, and the new life that is born out of pain.
Last week, our priest spoke about dying and death. How we shun it. Brush death aside; look right through it, forgetting it’s there following us like a shadow. As though we escape from it by not naming it. Or that we shroud it in mystery or merriment. Dress up our dead in a suit and coat him with make up. Play mahjong and drink for days while the beloved is tucked neatly in a casket. Put off grieving with company or that we cannot let mementos go. Even that we are fascinated with immortality: elixirs of youth and the Philosopher’s stone, lovelorn stories of Vampires, and having the living-dead dance to Billy Jean. And then there’s the eleventh-hour and how we desperately draw out on life until the last breath. Prolong with a pill, bargain for another lease, buy time with machines, choose life’s likeness because we cannot go, or have someone leave, not yet.
A few weeks ago there was a woman who exercised her right to death. She was 29 with brain cancer. To shun death meant scalding her head. To bargain with death meant losing her personality, her speech, her thoughts, and her semblance of life. So she looked death straight in the eye. Died with dignity.
And it’s not just physical death. We shun death all the time. For things that end, for people who leave us, for relationships that fade, or an old way of life that’s sinking fast. We stretch out, numb pain, carry on, resuscitate, revive, and try to prolong the life of the dying. Even when it’s scalded and burned. Even when what’s left has no semblance of what once was. Even when sometimes, it is asking for its right to die.
We are terrified of death and dying. Someone, something, life as we know it, departs, and here we are suddenly faced with the unknown and the unfamiliar that wants to enter. So we skirt around the Dark Angel. Resuscitate the dying. Revive a relationship even as it hangs by a thread. Find a reproduction or likeness so we don’t have to mourn. Bypass grieving and burying and yet still want the resurrection.
What is it about death that makes us look the other way? Perhaps we see death as an ending. To forever rest in peace. Like the crucified Christ at Golgotha. Perpetually entombed, without Easter Sunday. Eternal slumber. Like Advent without Christmas. And we fear the momentary darkness that comes with it. The venture into the unknown, the loss of the comfortable, and the possibilities of the new that comes after.
Except why? When Christmas always comes (without us hurrying it on September.) Despite knowing that on the 3rd day, Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty. The Christ had risen. Despite growing up and knowing that no one remains in a casket or asleep for a hundred years. The kiss of life always comes.
And so, (and as our priest said), we need to befriend death. Welcome the blessing of the Dark Angel and not its curse. Because as we befriend death, we befriend life’s passing and coming to be.
We let the dying go. We throw out the old. We close at closing time. Bid our farewells with less racket and drowning in alcohol. Mourn a passing and let the sadness wash over us like a wave. Stop raising the dead by settling on its mere likeness. And more than that, we need to wait for the advent of things becoming. Just like we don’t pry open a cocoon before the caterpillar has died and only then sprouted wings. Just like we don’t bypass grief, cocooning in bed, and bawling our eyes out. Just like we delve into the darkening of days without lighting all our candles.
And so let the rotten, the decayed, the old, make way for the merry and bright. So we trust the new that enters us in the darkening. So something is born in the wailing. So there is the advent of things anew. So we have Christmas.