Learning to Die Well


Submission is not natural. The moment we take our first mouthful of air it's all about making our will known and demanding that others submit to it. We are born dictators, and if we don't get food on demand we throw a screaming hissy fit. By three months old, our eldest daughter could get her new parents to do just about anything through the power of her blood-curdling cry. We tried everything to get her to agree with our notions of sleeping, eating and a generally civilized schedule, but submission is simply a quality that we are born resisting.

The book, Ella Enchanted, is about a girl who has been put under a spell by a fairy and must obey any direct command. She is cursed with submission. The whole premise of the story is that obeying others is a curse because it opens the door for manipulation and control. As Americans, freedom and independence are pathological obsessions. Our natural tendency to resist authority have been put on steroids. "Live free or die," right? it's the philosophical foundation for our country. Anyone who values submission a weakling who lives at the mercy of others.

In the book, Life of Pi, the story's Hindu protagonist is baffled by the idea of Christ dying on the cross. "That a god should put up with adversity, I could understand ... But humiliation? Death? I couldn't imagine Lord Krishna consenting to be stripped naked, whipped, mocked, dragged through the streets and, to top it off, crucified - and at the hands of mere humans, to boot ... Why not leave death to the mortals? Why make dirty what is beautiful, spoil what is perfect? Love. That was Father Martin's answer."

The problem with our independent, anti-authoritarian breeding is that it has no place in the upside-down kingdom of love, selflessness, submission and abandon that Jesus brings. "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Mt. 5:39-42). It's verses like these which prove that Jesus' teachings were un-American. He consistently called those who followed him to a lifestyle of submission and dying - laying down things his disciples really liked doing, such as judging others, and picking up things that were really repulsive, like crosses.

I am learning to die well. Marriage was a first step in learning to die well. Not that I don't like being married, it's just that I like having my way. If I could be married and always have my way, that would be best, but marriage, or any real community living for that matter, forces us to concede that there are other sentient life forms in the universe. Having kids was another nail in the coffin of my independence-loving, self-absorption. This went way beyond the saintly act of watching Pride and Prejudice in place of Terminator III. I am convinced that changing a diaper is the most selfless act a human being can perform next to dying for another person, and only if that death is slow and painful. A quick, painless death and changing a diaper are very close on the selflessness scale.

Sometimes when I have an itch, I will resist scratching it. It is one little way of reminding myself that I do not live at the whim of my personal desires and comfort. If losing my life in this self-serving world is the only way to find it in a kingdom inherited by the meek where predators and prey lie down together in peace and the poor and marginalized are given seats at the head table of the wedding banquet, then let me die. Because until I learn to die well, I cannot know what it really means to follow Jesus.

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