November is the month traditionally dedicated to those who have preceded us in death—whether canonized (Nov. 1 – All Saints) or uncanonized (Nov. 2 – All Souls). Those of us living in the northern hemisphere have only to look out our windows to see this emphasis on death reflected in nature: bare trees, increasing darkness, colder temperatures. All of this makes it easy to ponder our own mortality, something I have been doing a lot lately. In doing so, I have come to this conclusion: I am being erased.
After all, my childhood home is gone. In fact, the whole farm where I lived my first 18 years is gone, now a part of a golf course. The only thing that remains of the homestead is the driveway entrance, now used by golf carts. My first elementary school, James A. Garfield in Willoughby Hills, is gone too, the
victim of age and insufficient funds to revitalize it. When it was being torn down, my sister and I stopped by to pay our respects to a school we both loved.
My parish school is gone too, St. Felicitas in Euclid. In fact, my parish is “gone” too, merged with another parish and now called St. John of the Cross. My high school, Regina in South Euclid, is closed too, the beautiful building now a part of Notre Dame College.
At age 73, I have lost many family members and friends, and with each death a part of me was erased—the me who was known uniquely by each person. My nuclear family of six is down to two, my brother Paul and me. I have said goodbye to aunts and uncles, cousins, good friends. My religious congregation—at least in Europe and the United States—is being erased too. Over the years I have seen the median age of my province rise. When I made my vows in 1965 the median age was 38. When I celebrated my Golden Jubilee two years ago, the median age was 74.
The way I figure, within a few years, no one will know I ever existed. I have no direct descendants, a consequence of my vow of celibacy. Even though I have written a number of books, that fact certainly doesn’t insure remembrance. In fact, some of my books are already out of print. Yes, I am being erased. Definitely.
You might think I find this realization depressing. But it isn’t really, for on a deeper level, as I am being erased on earth, hopefully I am being “drawn” in eternity—whatever that will be like. I have seen a number of individuals die, and one thing I have learned is this: ordinarily, we do not die all at once. Death is a gradual process: hours, days, weeks, or even longer. This means we are actually dying a little bit each day. But here’s the upside: we are being born into eternity a little bit each day too. As we pass from this life, we are being born into the next.
The awareness of our own mortality is very important. It helps us to appreciate the gift of each day. It gives us a more authentic perspective on people and events. It helps us keep our priorities straight which can so easily get out of whack. The sense of our mortality tells us that we do not have all the time in the world. We won’t have our loved ones forever. This earthy home (as beautiful and meaningful and mysterious as it is) is not our final home.
This November I recall that I am being erased… What about you?
Do you ever have the sense that you are being erased?
Does the knowledge of your own mortality effect the way you live your life? If so, how?
I chose the song “Where I Belong” by Building 429. My favorite refrain is “I’m not home yet.” Although we should cherish our time on earth and work for a better world, we know we are “passing through.” (An interesting note: Baseball players sometimes have a certain song played as they step up to bat. Over the pass few years two different Cleveland Indians chose this song for their “walk up song.” Maybe they wanted to keep their work at “home” plate in perspective…)
I welcome your responses to this reflection and/or song below: