I certainly can't speak with authority about death, never having been through the experience. Nevertheless, I discovered the other night that I do have a few convictions on the subject. No surprise, I discovered those convictions in the course of a conversation with my 12-year-old daughter, Grace. Unlike long car commutes, where she's a captive audience, I'm the one held captive at her bedtime. Suddenly, she's talkative, and even though I know she's stalling, I'm all ears.
Such was the case the other night when she launched into a passionate recounting of an incident that had occurred that day at the stable where she rides and works.
Apparently, Grace and a friend happened upon the barn cat with a baby bunny in its mouth. The cat was violently shaking its prey, as cats are wont to do. My daughter threw stones near the cat to get it to drop its catch, which it did. By then, however, the bunny was in bad shape. Grace nudged it onto a shovel and then nestled it in a box. It was breathing, but barely.
When I asked whether any good ideas had occurred to her, Grace said she thought to herself that God was taking care of the bunny. I wish I could say that the bunny was healed through my daughter's prayers and soon leapt out of the box and bounded into the woods. Not so. Soon after its rescue, the bunny died.
At this point in the story, Grace started to cry. "It was so little," she wailed. "It hardly got to live at all!"
"But, honey," I responded, "the fact that the bunny is beyond our view of life doesn't mean it's not alive. That bunny's being - its beauty, energy, spirit - is as alive as ever. We just can't see it expressing those qualities."
"Besides," I continued, "think of the love you expressed. You were God's angel, showing that bunny proof of God's presence. What's more, through your love, you were showing it life as well. Don't stop being God's angel now. Stay on the side of divine Love and Life."
A little later, after planting final goodnight kisses on each of Grace's cheeks, her forehead, chin, and nose (it was one of those nights that calls for multiple kisses), I got to thinking about what I'd said to her.
Convincing a child who has watched a bunny stop breathing that, in reality, life can't end, is a tough sell. I suspect that particular point remains for her theoretical at best. I know that Jesus spoke repeatedly of life being eternal (see John 3:15 and John 17:3). And Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, confirmed this point throughout her writings, often quoting Jesus' words specifically (see "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 410, for example).
So I believe, as much out of faith as understanding, that life is, in fact, eternal. Even so, when loved ones, or even strangers, pass on, I often struggle to maintain my grasp of that truth.
But the value of being an angel in the face of death is easier to make sense of - for child and adult alike. Grace seemed to understand that the love she'd expressed in that bunny's last moments on earth mattered. I'm sure of it. In fact, I think love is all that ever matters. Mrs. Eddy suggested as much when she wrote, "Love alone is Life" ("Poems," page 7).
Jesus and his followers proved the truth of that statement numerous times. Through pure spiritual love, they restored to life those either about to die or already dead - Dorcas, Jairus's daughter, and Lazarus, to name a few (see Acts 9:36-41; Luke 8:41-56; John 11:1-44).
But even if we (Grace and me included) aren't yet able to follow Jesus' example of restoring the dead to life, we can certainly do our best to be Love's angels whenever we see or hear of death trying to take hold of someone (or something). And we can listen for - and then act on - ways to make Love's presence felt, even if that means scooping a bunny onto a shovel and gently placing it in a box.
Every expression of love matters, however small, for every expression of love affirms Life.
Bless the Lord, ye his angels,
that excel in strength, that do
hearkening unto the voice
of his word.