There are so Many Ways to Die!


The older I get, the more people I meet and the more often I go on London trains and have direct, unintentional access to The London Evening Standard, the more I realise that there are so many ways to die. (Sorry to begin your New Year like this, but it’s just true).  You can get a disease, you can ski off a mountain, you can die in a gas explosion while you sleep in your bed. You can get mauled by a stag while on holiday in Scotland. If none of these get you, then high cholesterol might. Or blood pressure or a stroke. You can die if you don’t drink enough water of if you drink too much. Or if you eat too much red meat. You can die from eating the wrong things or eating too much of the right things. Frankly, it does my head in.

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Then, to cap it all, you hear reports of people “dying peacefully in their beds”. The people who tell you this – newsreaders or relatives or friends – nod their heads and spread their hands with relief, as if it is a good thing. What? You say goodnight to your husband or your dog or valued other, you clean your teeth and fetch water and put your jim-jams on. Then you do all those other routine jobs – feed the cat, put the bins out, make sandwiches – that indicate you fully expect your life to carry on the next day as it always has. And boom! You’re dead. How can that be a good thing? Of course what they really mean, is that compared to all those other nasties, it’s a better way to go. Well, maybe…

Cat

To be honest I know I’m a minster’s wife and all, but I’m a bit iffy about illness and death. It’s not something I like to think about much. In fact when anyone is telling us about a distant relative or friend of theirs who has developed some kind of unpleasant condition, while I am genuinely upset for them, saying things like, “Oh poor thing! How dreadful!” my brain’s going tick, tick, tick and I’m thinking, “How would you know you had that?” It dismays me that there are so many awful things you could get that I’ve never even thought of worrying about.

My husband, cheery little soul that he is, often says that the only certain thing in life is death. He says this quite matter of factly, even with a certain amount of relish, as if his being right about it gives him huge satisfaction. It does nothing for me.

But this does; the other day I met an inspiring woman. She was beautiful, with glossy hair and dark eyes. She talked animatedly about her daughter who is friends with my daughter and about the joint birthday party she wants to host for them. She goes to a local church, she’s excited about the new minister and the Mums and Toddlers group, she invited me round for coffee. Nothing remarkable about any of this, except that this woman has MS. For two years she could hardly talk or swallow. She is much better now but she still can’t sit for long periods of time and finds it challenging to go out. She requires the help of a daily carer. I’m sure she has her moments, but she came across as overwhelmingly positive and kind, and forward-looking about life.

Meeting her was like being given an unexpected gift on a grey post-Christmas day. It gave me a burst of energy even stronger than the one given by all the other wonderful, able bodied family and friends peopling my Christmas. Why? Because she reminded me of something I often forget; we have one life and it’s now…

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One of the dictionary definitions of the word, life, is “vitality, vigour, energy”, the soul of what it is to be alive. The longer I’m here, the more people I meet and the more I read inspiring books like Dr Seuss and the bible, the more I realise there are so many ways to live. And by that, I mean, really live, not just take up space in the world. Here are a few: –

Smile at a stranger, give something away, bake a cake for a mate. Learn to sing in tune. Buy a sad person chocolate, or flowers, or one of those crazy little cup-cakes with eyes on.

cup cake

Say something nice when everyone’s having a moan. Encourage a child. Notice how the rain makes street light kinder. And your house inviting.

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Do something unselfish for the people who love you, more often and more obviously. For Brits this is awkward. But do it anyway. No one knows the size of their L.Q. (longevity quotient). Or anyone else’s. Be nice to an enemy. It will make you feel better about both of you.

Finally, don’t be so hard on yourself. God isn’t, and how would you feel if something you wrote or made entitled itself, “A piece of worthless junk”? God, who put you on this earth for a time such as this, has good that only you can bring to things, in small ways and quiet, because you know about them. Like the woman I met the other day who brought a dead day to life…

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There are so many ways to die. But there are more ways to live.

It’s a New Year. Let’s live…