Knowing what to say to someone who has just lost a loved one is almost as difficult as knowing how to reply. This fact makes a “viewing” at a funeral home probably the most awkward social setting known to man. After enduring two of these events in two years, here are a few thoughts.
First of all, I appreciate more than I can say every single person who takes the time to show up at these things. The fact that you make the effort to attend is in itself comforting, no matter what you say when you get there. Seeing old friends and family is a welcomed diversion from the sadness of loss.
Most people say the same thing, some version of the following:
“So sorry for your loss. He was a great man, and he’s in a better place.”
But, on several occasions people would say, “So glad that you have Kaitlin’s wedding to look forward to. It’s like the circle of life.”
Uh…no. It isn’t.
My father didn’t live a circular life. He lived a linear life, like all human life is lived. He was born, grew into a man, and then died when his body stopped working. You want to hear about the circle of life? I’ll tell you about the circle of life.
The circle of life is what happens when a hungry lioness stalks a herd of wildebeests looking for the most vulnerable, preferably a disabled calf. At the precise moment of maximum efficiency, the lioness springs into action and plunges her powerful teeth into the jugular vein of her weaker prey. Fifteen minutes later her face is buried, jowl deep, into gimpy’s intestines. After eating every muscle, tissue, and internal organ, our lioness takes a giant dump somewhere on the plains of the Serengeti. A couple of days later, her bowel movement is covered by dung beetles and maggots who after their feast get devoured by some larger predator who eventually gets blindsided by another hungry lioness.
That’s the circle of life. To compare the nobility of the life and death of a human being to the law of the jungle represents either the Disney-fication of our culture at best, or the devaluing of the human experience at worst.
But Doug, but Doug, human beings are part of the animal kingdom and just another member of the ecosystem. We’re no better or worse than other animals.
Well then, by all means please introduce me to the Shakespeare of the great wildebeest civilization. I’m anxious to hear the dolphin communities’ version of Johann Sebastian Bach. Please show me the great architecture of the elephants. Whence the Rembrandt of the cockroach community?
No one is a greater lover of dogs than this writer. My great Golden Retriever, Molly, was like a member of my family and equally loved and adored. But there is one enormous difference between my dog and my daughter. Kaitlin has a soul because she was created in the image of God. Molly does not and was created in the image of….a dog.
So when I hear the term circle of life thrown around carelessly, it bothers me. Anything that elevates the animal kingdom to moral equality with human beings is a dangerous idea that left unchallenged will have the effect of degrading the nobility and uniqueness of human life, making us as expendable as that limping wildebeest calf. When I see those old photographs of ditches full of naked Jewish bodies from the Nazi labor camps, I see how the German people were reduced to a view of life that made no distinction between Jewish life and that of the cockroach. When a news story pops up about newborn babies being found in dumpsters still alive, it worries me that we are just as capable of such a fall from grace.
No, my Dad’s death was not part of the circle of life. It was the physical end to a noble life, well-lived.