Thursday, March 18, 2010

Facing Death

Have you ever been in a situation that you TRULY believed that there was a good chance that you were going to die? An accident or a diagnosis that caused you to really have to consider the fact that you might not only die, but die soon. I recently had such an experience and I have been paying attention to the what it has left in my mind, body and spirit.

We were on a trip over spring break and were flying into the bad storms that they were having on the east coast to land at the airport in Newark. The flight crew had warned us far in advance about the situation and told us to expect some turbulence. The flight was bumpy for much of the flight, but as we as we neared Newark it got really BAD. Someone came on the PA and told us that it was going to be a pretty rough ride but that they would have us on the ground soon. Then there was complete silence from the cockpit for the next 45 MINUTES (not SOON in my book) while the plane creaked and groaned and bucked and swayed. I REALLY thought that there was a possibility that I was going to die.

I’m going to say this again, I REALLY thought that I was staring death in the face. I know I’m being repetitive, but that part is very important, because I want to share my reaction to that thought and especially how I prayed during that time, or probably more accurately how I didn’t pray. Because, it helped me to become aware of something that I hadn’t realized before and it surprised me.

I never once prayed that I wouldn’t die or that we wouldn’t crash. Not once. And my kids were on the plane. You would think that I would have at least prayed that my kids wouldn’t die. The closest that I came was to say, “God, I really don’t want my kids to die.” Actually, the only way that I prayed was just to keep my heart open to whatever would be. To accept my death if it was to come. To accept the death of my husband and my kids if that was to come as well and to not give in to fear.

I did not get on that plane with some idea about how I would pray or react if I was faced with death. We all will always wonder how we will behave when that moment actually comes. I don’t possess some theology or dogma about not praying for my own safety. I know that some people don’t believe in asking for anything for themselves. That’s not me. I want and NEED God’s help and ask for whatever God is willing to give me.

Here’s what I now understand about why I didn’t pray to be saved. Because it would have been asking for myself to be excused from all of the suffering in the world. It would have been saying that it’s alright for God to let someone else die in a plane crash, die in an avalanche, have their whole family killed in an earthquake in Haiti, be kicked out on the street with no where to live, or live in constant fear of war, famine or starvation with no real way to protect your children, but I should be spared for some reason. In that moment, I was standing in solidarity with the people all over the world who were deeply suffering and who wouldn’t be spared.

While I didn’t feel that I should pray to be spared my own suffering, I do pray for all of those who suffer in the world and that God will use me as an instrument to help relieve their suffering. Not avoiding my own pain and fear is one of the ways that I pray.

When we have wept many tears and they flow like rivers
from our sad eyes
only then
does the deep hidden sigh of
our neighbor
become our own.
Julia Esquivel


Tess said...

Yes, that allowing ourselves to be in the human family and its suffering. Very important.

I've never really been in the situation you describe. I wonder what it will be like.

Sulwyn said...

I found myself thinking about something similar many years ago and discovered that I wasn't so worried about myself as I was about my parents, more specifically how my mother would survive emotionally if I died. There were a few thoughts of feeling too young and incomplete, but primarily my concern was my mom. It was a strange feeling.


I was on a 30+ passenger plane flying in a storm that was hit by lightning. We passengers did not know what the loud boom was but my first thought was "we're going down, this is the way IT happens" - no panic, no tears - I thought immediately of my daughter and how she would come to terms with my death. A long 10-15 minutes later the captain came on, informed us of the strike, and that ATLANTA informed him there was no damage to our plane and that we were all right. Now, that's when I got teed off - yeah, you're in Atlanta in an office and I'm in the sky (having just left Salt Lake City) at 25.0 feet - how do you know that I'm all right!!!??? Well, of course, the plane was just fine, apparently strikes are not so uncommon but it was uncommon for me. Like you, I did not immediately begin to pray for my own safety. I often pray before we take off, usually I pray for the pilots:) There was one other time in my life that death was near and I immediately thought of my young children who were not with me but at home........

I so agree that we are placed in those moments along with the global world citizens who face death and are killed every day and in every way. They are not spared, whether good or bad persons - they are just there when the tragedy occurs. I hope my prayers are for living my days as if each were my last and that I would not be ashamed of my actions if death took me away in some accident.

Thank you Rebecca for sharing your story and the equation that places all humans in a category of fragility that we cannot even imagine. We could not dwell on it or it would paralyze us to live our lives in any consistent or unselfish way.


lucy said...

while i don't recall being in a specific life or death situation, i do recall times of "oh this could be it." my response has most often been for those i would leave behind and not for myself. it's an odd sense to ponder this.

when i came to the end of your post and read equivel's words, my deepest response was Yes Yes Yes. it is through those rivers of tears that i have become more compassionate for our neighbor(s).

thank you for this. xo

The Pollinatrix said...

I feel the presence of death on a fairly regular basis. Not through circumstances so much, but just in my soul.

I relate to your not praying to be "saved" from death. I think the only prayer about death I've ever prayed - and I wrote it down - was, "Jesus, let me be so in love with you when I die that there's no fear in it at all." Something like that.

Anonymous said...

there was a time i thought that death was imminent, on a road, where a huge vehicle seemed not to have noticed me driving next to it, overtaking, and i thought that i was moments away from being squashed! it was a strange feeling really, no time to panic, and i felt really calm, interested somehow, and part of me was watching and saying so this is what it feels like.

Anonymous said...

I have thought for days about this blog. i am still not sure what i want to say. I want you to know that i read you and more so that I heard you. This reminds me of a conversation we had once and how it helped me understand something about myself that I didnt understand before.

I am not sure that i ever told you about this...guess I should.
love you~

Barbara said...

From my own brief run-ins, I can say that your response was not unusual. St. Benedict advised his monks to keep death daily in mind. It certainly sharpens one's attention. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Anonymous said...

sending you lots of love,

another rebecca x

Anonymous said...

i miss your words x

Anonymous said...


I know you're still there, bcos I see the list of blogs you're looking at. Is there any chance you will share your words with us again one day?

I hope your life is happy and peaceful and full of love.

much love

Rebecca X

Heather said...

Hi I’m Heather! Please email me when you get a chance! I have a question about your blog. HeatherVonsj(at)gmail(dot)com