Tuesday, December 22, 2009

No More Death

No More Death, Boom!
No More Death, Boom!

Set me as a seal upon thine heart,
As a seal upon thine arm:
For love is strong as death;

Song of Solomon 8:6

One early summer evening long ago when I was about eight years old, I was standing outside a deli with a friend, waiting for a train to pass so I could cross the tracks and go home. I had just purchased a candy bar and my friend was drinking from a bottle of pop with one hand and with the other trying to unscrew a reflector from a stop sign.

The slow freight was going up grade, clank clank, clunk clunk, as we watched. We looked away as we were talking and when we looked back a white cat was approaching the passing train. I had never seen such a cat in our neighborhood, pure white, with long fluffy fur. Must have been a Persian, I suppose. It was so startling to see it there and so alarming to see it approach the noisy freight train. No cat I ever had would ever get close to anything so noisy as a train, and this cat looked like a delicate show animal, completely out of place in this situation. It was standing between the other set of rails and looked like it was trying to dart beneath the moving freight cars. It would start to run beneath the cars, then pull back, such odd behavior, as it showed no fear.

We watched for a time, when suddenly we saw the light of a downhill locomotive light up the scene. A fast train was approaching the intersection on the rails where the cat was standing. We stared at the white cat in the head light of the engine, wondering when he would see the train and jump out of the way. But he never did. While we watched in horror, the speeding train ran over the beautiful white cat. He never saw it, apparently, so intent on crossing the tracks, getting past the slow train, that he never saw the one that killed him.

But we saw it in every detail, and, over sixty years later, it is still in my mind. This was, in my memory, the summer of death, as if the cat’s death was a token.

Children around this time were immersed in death. Life could have been so simple and sweet in those long ago years. It was still common to see horse drawn wagons deliver milk. The pace of life was so slow and gentle compared to today. But overseas a war was raging and this intruded into almost every aspect of our lives. The brother of a friend ,brought home a trophy from the Pacific. He showed us a blue typewriter ribbon box. He opened it to reveal human teeth, knocked out of the mouth of dead Japanese soldiers for the gold they contained.

We drew so many war pictures, especially fighter planes in aerial combat, with lines for tracer bullets, that our parents became alarmed. A teacher once projected some slides of European cathedrals for us to admire. The boys in the class began to make whistling sounds, pretending bombs were descending to blow the buildings up.

Everything was a target to us. The teacher screamed art us. “Stop it! Stop it! Is that all you can think of, war?” She might as well have yelled at a sponge in a pail of water for being wet.

We were marinated in thoughts of war and death, from our toys to our books and movies. What did we know? What do we know today? War is the natural state of man, and death is its natural consequence.

But in this summer of death, it was not the deaths of war that pressed down upon my life. It was the deaths around me. Seems as if the funerals were going to keep coming all summer long. In my mind a funeral was the worst thing you could inflict upon me. The awful mournful music, the smell of the flowers, the viewing of the corpse, the endless crying, dressing up in uncomfortable clothes for an endless day of agony.

I was a sensitive little kid. Life often scared me. In my mind, the perfect escape was to go into the woods and become what, in my imagination, was a savage, a primitive, an Indian! What a life, I thought. Your food and shelter were all around you, and, perhaps best of all you didn’t have to go to school!

If someone could have granted me my idea of heaven on earth, it would have been to place their hand on my shoulders and say. “From this day forward, you don’t ever have to go to school. You don’t ever have to wear dress up clothes again or the shoes made in hell to torture little boys’ feet. You may roam the woods all day and come home only when you feel like it. You will henceforth be imbued with magical powers. The spear you make out of a box elder tree branch with a triangular piece of a broken bottle for a point and held together with string, will never fail. It will kill any animal from deer to buffalo, and no foe can stand against you. Today, my son, you are a savage, but please wear enough clothes to be decent.”

But this never happened, and my life as a free Indian was postponed forever. But traces of the dream, and the desire, remained.

After the last funeral of the season, I could stand the spell of death no longer. I wanted to make some noise. I looked around in our basement until I found some suitable drum sticks, maybe old chair rungs, something like that, and wrapped rags around the ends and tied them with string. I took a big round washtub into the back yard and placed it on the ground upside down. Then began the wild music, my idea of what a savage rhythm should sound like. now this was life, this was freedom!

My father came to the window. He called out that all this noise was not appropriate, for there had been, after all, a death in the family. As if I didn’t know.

Will you forgive me, when I look upon Jesus, that I do not always think only of sin?
He is the Champion over sin, the One and Only victor over sin. Everything we desire He bought when he paid for our sin.

But someone asked this question. What if Jesus, after he died, had stayed in the tomb? What if our savior had remained dead? Since we follow the course he set for us, we too, would stay dead, would we not?

What this person was saying was, what if we died righteous and never lived again? There would be cemeteries filled with the bodies of righteous dead people, forever righteous, but forever dead.

Once I asked why Catholic churches have crucifixes portraying Jesus on the cross, but protestant churches have an empty cross? I was told, “Because He is risen, he is not dead or dying any more.

My childhood experiences, my “summer of death”, and all that has followed, have shaped me. I have seen a lot of dead people. But I have never seen anyone resurrected to live forever. I truly expect to. Chances are I will need to be resurrected unless Jesus comes pretty soon. I count on His raising me up, along with all of His church. Jesus did more than pay for our sin, he bought us eternal life. That is what I think about every day.

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