Death be not proud

Ed
Ed Smith
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I haven't yet decided whether I'll die sooner, later or at all.
Some of you really get your drawers in a knot over little statements like that. People who take this stuff seriously (and I'm glad they do) don't think that first line is appropriate for me or anyone else. They attempt to enlighten me, convert me (in the religious sense) and/or chastise me or all three at once.
You probably think this will be a dull, boring and totally uninteresting column. I don't know yet myself what it will be, because I don't know for sure what I'm going to say. Sometimes such efforts should never see the black of print. Sometimes they turn out to be wonderfully scintillating and unforgettable. I know where my money lies on this one.
I've heard all the responses many times to that first line, so I'm presenting them here. I've even listed them numerically for your greater convenience.
1. "That's really stupid! You don't decide how you'll die."
2. "That's a really arrogant thing to say, Edward. God decides when you die!
3. "You're tempting God, Ed! Only God knows when you're going to die!"
4. "You die when your time comes; not before, not after."
5. "You could be dead tomorrow, Ed Smith. What will you say then?"
There are other responses to the opening line bordering on the fanatical and sometimes the vulgar. No need to get into them here. Oh, OK, just one - for entertainment purposes only.
"You @#@$% heathen, you're not &%#@# saved, are you, or you wouldn't say stupid @#$&# things like that!"
I'd like to respond briefly to the first five responses, if I may, because as usual, most of us don't think very clearly when we make statements like that. Whether or not they make sense is entirely irrelevant. Same is true of this column.
1. I can decide how I'll die if I want to. I could go jump off a high cliff, except I can't get to one in my wheelchair. But if I could, it would certainly be my choice, would it not? I could wheel in front of a transport truck, except I'm afraid it would hurt. I could swallow a week's supply of medication and simply go to sleep.
The whole point is that I can decide how I'll die if I choose to. People do it all the time.
2. I don't think it's that arrogant. As suggested under 1, I could decide to do any one of those things today, tomorrow or next year. But, you're saying, God could stop you from doing anything of the sort. He could cause the truck to break down. He could make you get sick and throw up the pills. He could dry up the river. He could send a great fish to swallow you whole. It's been done before, you know!
Now you're getting upset because I'm being blasphemous. But as far as I'm concerned, you can ascribe whatever stupid and ridiculous things to God you want. He can take it.
3. God may know when I'm going, but that doesn't mean he has anything to do with it. I might know when the next U.S. presidential election is coming, but that doesn't mean I'm involved in it. If I did have some responsibility for a national election, I wouldn't waste it. I'd call one in Canada for August and have Harper over in Iceland shovelling volcanic ash for the two months preceding it. (That's a little aside for my own pleasure.)
4. This was my mother's philosophy of life and death. We'd argue about it left and right, up and down, but I could never change her mind. I'd even tell her that story about the man in an isolated little community in Labrador who was very ill. I've told it before, but for those of you who may have been elsewhere at the time, here it is again.
A friend of mine who flew bush planes was hired to pick up this old fellow as a medical emergency and take him to hospital in St. Anthony. But when Burt got there, the old guy refused to get in the plane. No way was he going up in that thing, he said; it wasn't safe. All arguments were futile.
Finally Burt asked him if he believed in God, and if he believed that God decided life and death and when one's time had come. Yes, the old fellow said, he believed that firmly.
"There you go," Burt said. "If God decides your time is not come, you'll be OK in my plane."
"l know that," his reluctant passenger replied, "but suppose while we're up in that plane, God decides your time has come?"
Mother said she didn't believe the story, and that was that.
5. This one reminds me of a story I know to be true because a one-time neighbour of our family said it, or rather screeched it, at her youngsters one bright summer day. "If you youngsters goes down in that landwash and falls in that salt water and drowns, you'm going to get some trimmin' when you comes back up here!"
I'll tell you what I'll say if I drop dead tomorrow. "Which way to the Pearly Gates, you?" I assume that no matter who I run into, they'll be able to point me in the right direction.
So, you're asking me, what on Earth would cause you to write about this stuff, anyway? It isn't uplifting. It isn't informative. It isn't even funny. In fact, truth be known, it's rather depressing in a strange sort of way.
I agree. I just read it over and I'm depressed. And there's just this one other thing.
You could be right, ma'am. God may decide when I die, how I'll die or if I'll die at all. I may have nothing whatsoever to do with it.
I concede the point.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca.

Geographic location: Springdale

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