A spider makes its way across the wall in front of me. It, like all living things, will eventually die. Its movements are frantic and irregular. It is limping. One of its legs is missing. I look at it, and it pauses, almost as if it’s waiting for me to kill it. I leave it alone, and the maimed spider crawls away. Several days later, I see another spider. This spider is about the same size, with the same color and patterns on its body. However, this one is more adventurous in its nature, crawling all around the wall rather than sticking to the corners. Moreover, the new spider has all its legs. I can only guess at the fate of the first spider that I saw. I have never seen the maimed spider again.
I am not sure what the point of this paper is. It’s probably not going to be well written, nor will it say anything original. Everything that can be said about death seems to have been explored already. Now there remains only the matters of properly applying these concepts of our temporal nature and of death and reminding ourselves of these concepts.
This paper itself seems an exercise in futility, another hurdle to injecting this experience with meaning. In fact, completing this paper artificially imposes a reflection on death when the emphasis so far has been that people need to process death on their own timescale. The individuality with which we address the subject has been ignored in this assignment. In its place is the same rigid institutionalism (associated with traditional hospital-based approaches) which we have been trying to break with hospice care.
Hospice work was a sobering reminder, but these exercises and reflections that we do seem largely pointless unless they are self-motivated. Which is it? Are we to undergo the grieving process at our own rate or is there a rigid deadline to which we are to conform?
A time of reflection is important, but if the object of these seminars is reflection (on service, death, or otherwise), then wouldn’t the teaching of techniques for productive reflection be more productive? To draw an analogy, it is more productive to teach a person to fish than to just give them fish. Because such reflection meetings will not always be available in our adult lives, we should be taught how to reflect on things rather than just be given times to reflect. Of course, I can see the argument that we are being taught through practice, but practice is most productive when one is aware of the underlying practices and end goals of the practice. Thus, I would propose some introductory sessions that would teach how to reflect rather than on what to reflect on.
Such instruction on how to reflect has been given, but rather obliquely. I understand that we may have been being taught how to reflect by giving examples of reflection, but even these seemed inadequate in their applications to our daily lives. Considering the realities of death, I think the only two relevant reactions are to despair or to find hope in something outside of death. There is a lot of pain and suffering in the world, and we cannot possibly hope to understand it all. In this regard, I think that Ecclesiastes would best summarize the views that I am trying to encapsulate. These views are: 1) Everything and everyone dies, 2) Everything is hopeless, frustrating, and confusing without God, and 3) The chief end of man is to glorify, obey, and take pleasure in and through God alone.