• Charlene Jin Lee

No Death Is Impersonal

Updated: Apr 23


Every person, every body, is intimately woven into creation. From birth, we breathe, we touch, we receive; we love, we despise, we weep. Death can feel like an unraveling from this intimacy. And we would rather turn away while death does its swift pulling. Being too close, we fear, will leave us bruised for a lifetime.

But whether we look away, or face it squarely, or have profound love to remain close when it comes, we all incur death’s indiscriminate injury. Our fresh and old bruises remind us of the unraveling that left us breathlessly hurt.

I learned this afternoon that an extraordinary young woman died this morning. Those of us who knew her will speak long of her gracious humility. An acclaimed organist who performed in world renowned venues faithfully accompanied a small church choir while astonishing the faithful week after week. She bravely fought an unfair battle with cancer. The world lost a brilliant musician, an earnest soul, a gentle friend. Many will mourn together.

I am mindful of death unraveling everywhere as the number of lives succumbing to the global pandemic is rising. Each number, a precious life, a complex story, leaving our collective knit, leaving injury to loved ones who will be bruised for the rest of their lives.

Numbers are impersonal. But death never is.

Every person, every body, is intimately woven into creation. Knowing that every unraveling changes the whole of us changes also our relationship with death. No longer will we turn away frightened of death’s might. Our love will behold the pain it descends. We will remain close. We will mourn together our lessened, bruised condition.

In these troubling days, when we are unravelling at a numbing pace, may we pause to let our hearts weep for those who must die alone. May we not turn our eyes from the disquieting sight of temporary morgues parked outside hospitals. May we accompany every body with our sorrow, offering even a moment of reverent ritual.

Even though I belong to a confession of the resurrection of the body, of the life everlasting, of the persistent love of Creator God who follows us beyond all depths, I fear death's continuous unraveling bearing its might over our already bruised hearts.

I want to close tonight’s struggled writing with a “where o death is your sting…” proclamation, but that would only be theologically correct. The truth of my grieving heart finds consolation with the elegant poet who writes of eternal things yet squarely speaks of our noble, earthly hope to live. I think he would agree with me: No death is impersonal; every death is too soon.



I want to live

I have work to do on deck

Wait for me Death beyond the earth Wait for me on your land

until I finish my talk with what’s left of my life

not far from your tent

Let’s be friendly and open together

I’ll give you my well-filled life

and you give me a view of the planets

Wait til I pack my bag Death

My toothbrush soap after-shave and some clothes

Is the climate warm over there?

Do the seasons change in the eternal whiteness?

Or does the weather stay fixed in autumn of winter?

Will one book be enough to read in non-time?

Or should I take a library?

And what do they talk over there?

vernacular or classical?

Death wait for me Death

til I clear my mind in Spring

and regain my health

And I want

I want to live

-Mahmoud Darwish






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