Borrowed Time

Animation isn’t only for children. This short made by Pixar has been described by some as dark, but it seems to accurately capture some of what we learned about in my last class about life through death: the cost of love, the pain of loss, and that we all become familiar with grief.

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Reflection on a Death (Class Assignment)

Although it is not my most recent loss, it is a loss I have been thinking about lately because my sister just lost a student of hers and the heartbreak I hear in her voice and tears is an echo of mine 15 years ago. Shortly after my class graduated high school, someone I cared for hung himself. I don’t have any answers for why. He had a beautiful smile and a personality that drew people to him and I liked him in spite of his knack for getting my boyfriend at the time in trouble. I certainly wasn’t perfect; I wrote papers for money in high school for a while and he had been a great customer. However, it had ended with him getting moved up into a higher level class (perhaps because they couldn’t prove he was cheating). Then they failed him through the class tests and he couldn’t graduate. He didn’t blame me but he also didn’t get to walk with the rest of us; he would have to go to summer school. He was also in love with his girlfriend but, as teens tend to do, he did something stupid and so his relationship was on the rocks. Despite all that, there had been optimism in his voice when we had talked earlier.

I had just pulled up to his house and was walking in. His old black truck, which seemed to be a part of him, had its hood up in the garage and the shiny front part of the truck was on the kitchen counter because he was in the middle of fixing something. I don’t remember exactly what transpired except that my boyfriend and I were the last two people at his house and we had a disagreement in the street next to my Explorer about leaving him. My boyfriend insisted he knew him better than I did, that his friend just needed some time to cool off. I had a bad feeling and wanted to go back in. I acquiesced to my boyfriends’ wishes and we promised ourselves we’d come back later that night to check on him. We didn’t; I was running late for my curfew. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. We found out later from his father that he was likely dead within minutes of us walking out of his garage door.

I didn’t believe in God at the time and I had been struggling with the fragility of life. This phase of my life leads me to disagree with Sigmund Freud’s perspective that we each believe in our own immortality on an unconscious level. In our reading it said “So we not only have the desire to deny the fact of our own death, but may be unable to do otherwise.”[1] While I desired desperately the ability to deny my own death or the death of those I love, I was incapable of doing so. Additionally, there was a tremendous amount of guilt that weighed on myself and my boyfriend, who began pulling away from me and started doing drugs more heavily after that night. I drank when I could to numb what I was feeling for a while. I remember his visitation was open casket and I kept looking at him because I believed all of him was summed up in that body and yet it didn’t even look like him. There were more people than they expected to attend and I kept realizing as the months went by the huge ripple his death sent through my community. I still wonder if we’ve not lost anyone else in our class to suicide because we saw how painful it was for everyone during those months. I got a tattoo a year later, still feeling deep down that I was a murderer. I wanted to remind myself to never again ignore the call to a person in pain. My family and friends weren’t allowed to talk to me about death for a long time because it upset me so much. The belief that these people I loved so dearly would one day die and cease to exist, that their essence was lost and that at the end of the universe there would be nothingness… it was unbearable to me. I was envious of people who could believe in a God.

Looking back now as a Christian, this event still brings me great sadness but I am comforted by the fact that I believe in a God that is good. I am reminded that “…it is of the utmost importance that the minister involved have sorted out his or her views with regard to a Christian conception of existence… the careful pastor will not confuse Christian criteria with whatever social norms may have characterized his or her own upbringing or, on the other hand, the latest avant-garde views of what is proper or “liberated” behavior.”[2] Building on the belief that God is good I know that I have to trust God with my loved ones and it may not work out the way I would want it to but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t beside me mourning the loss with me.

Three questions were brought to the surface in Worth’s chapter, “Do we make too much or too little of death? Is awareness of our own death even possible? Is awareness even useful?”[3] I went through times where death was such a large part of my brain space that it caused anxiety attacks, and I would say in those spans, it was too much. Now the only time I put thought into it is when I mourn with my friends and family, notice the graying hairs on a relative, or hold my dog tighter as I get ready to find out if he has cancer. I don’t know if I make too little of death now, but I certainly treasure the time I have with life and mourn the loss of being able to spend it with people I love. Awareness of death is a sure thing for me, and while it may not be in its fullness, it certainly feels ample enough. I would not assume this is an experience that is common to all people though. Lastly, the usefulness of this awareness depends entirely on how it is used. For me, it was useful because I moved from a state of debilitation to a state of appreciation for life and relationship. If people stay in a state where death is debilitating is would never gain its usefulness. That being said, it should not be a thing to be avoided. I am of the philosophy that sometimes in life we must suffer to grow and I would say that exposure to and contemplation of death is part of that.

[1] Worth, Jennifer. In the Midst of Life, pg. 14

[2] Gerkin, Charles. Crisis Experience in Modern Life, pg. 47

[3] Worth, Jennifer. In the Midst of Life, pg. 22