I really enjoyed reading chapter 19 out of Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age. Earlier this week I had to update my parent’s insurance policy. Because I’m the oldest, the responsibilities of taking care of my family falls on me. I sat down my parents and started talking about end of life decisions. We talked about what they want to do if something was to happen, do we donate their organs, do we unplug the machines, do they want to hang on as long as possible… these are tough conversations to have. It’s only when we start talking about these things that we realize how important and fragile life is. Only when faced with death do we appreciate the value of life.
Thinking through life and death causes you to value the ordinary things in life. Taylor says, “this sense of value of ordinary living is one of the constitutive elements of modern culture.” (711) Even though, in practice we seem to draw a lot of lines between the sacred and the secular, between the holy and the profane, in theory, because we desire to live holistic lives we want to put them together and value the every day things. If everything has value than everything is worth having and fighting for. The problem is that we begin to value things over people. We begin to value an image over character.
Taylor goes on to say, “we don’t know how to deal with death, and so we ignore it as much and for as long as possible. We concentrate on life. They dying don’t want to impose their plight on the people they love…” (723) This is so true! Death scares us and we pretend that it wont happen to us, but it will. The question is, have we lived our lives in such a way that we did not waste the time that was given to us. Did we love well? That’s ultimately the question that will haunt us as we approach the final days of life. It’s not, “did I have enough?” Or, “did I buy enough things?” The question will always be, “did I love well?” We will wonder if our families and friends know how much we cared.
I believe that it’s love that gives life meaning. It’s relationships that determine how satisfied we are in this life. Everything ales is like chaff… it’s here for a little bit, and it’s pretty, but when the wind blows it will blow away. That’s how it is with things in life. When difficulties come, all of our things become chaff, but the relationships stay. If we’re lucky, the people stay and walk along side of us. This is what we long for more than anything, to be known and still be liked… to still be loved.
If we don’t start to become comfortable with death, “the cost is a denial of the issue of meaning itself, something which can never be totally suppressed in any case.” (723) I think that one of the reasons that our culture is so uncomfortable with death is because we value youth above all else. The entire consumer culture is based on keeping us young and attractive, but if we would learn to value our wrinkles and see them as reminders of a life well lived. If they would be a reminder of laughter and joy as well as difficulty then we would value life as a whole and not pretend.