On November 1, 2014, Brittany Maynard, an Oregon woman with terminal cancer chose to end her life. She said that her reason for choosing to quicken death was her discovery that she was going to die. In other words, the revelation that she was dying caused her to change her entire perspective on living. Learning that death was imminent, Brittany Maynard concluded that life wasn’t worth it.
I do have great empathy for Ms. Maynard and in the spirit of the timeless prayer, “But for the grace of God, so go I,” I am grateful for whatever health I enjoy. However, I do have an obvious question: aren’t we all “dying?” Is anyone really shocked to hear this most inevitable of all diagnoses?
How can anyone be surprised by the words, “You are going to die?” Surely, we all understand that we all walk the shores of the river of death from the time we are born to the time we breathe our last. None of us are “not dying.” Some are closer to the water’s edge than others and some of us are waist deep within its torrents. Some of us may be blessed to know in advance that it is our time to ford the stream and many of us will be taken off guard by a flashflood or a breached damn, but the fact remains: The river is there. We cannot pretend otherwise.
John Bunyan describes this unavoidable human journey in his classic, Pilgrims Progress: “Now [they] further saw … a river; but there was no bridge to go over: the river was very deep… [Pilgrim] then – especially – began to despond in [his] mind; and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by [him] by which [he] might escape the river…” There is much in life that can’t be predicted and much, it seems, is left to chance but (to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin’s quote a bit), there is nothing more inevitable in life than death and nothing more factual than this: we all are dying – all of us walk the river’s edge day by day and hour by hour.
So, what are we to make of Ms. Maynard’s solution? Is this the ultimate fate and responsibility of us all? Should we all feel an obligation to spare ourselves and spare our loved ones of the sobering reality that “we are dying”? Should we all be prepared to pull the plug when convenience and comfort give way to the heavier weights of financial cost and personal suffering?
Maybe more words from Bunyan will suffice as the best answer: “Then [he] addressed [himself] to the water; and entering… [he] began to sink. And crying out… said, ‘I sink in deep waters, the billows go over my head; all his waves go over me’… And with a great darkness … he, in great measure, lost his senses… Then said HOPEFUL, ‘My brother…These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters are no sign that God hath forsaken you; but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses… Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole’; and with that CHRISTIAN brake out with a loud voice, ‘Oh, I see him again and he tells me, ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee’. Then [he] took great courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone… CHRISTIAN therefore presently found ground to stand upon; and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.”
Indeed, I am dying and so are you. We all have a river to cross. May “Hope” help us to not “lose our senses” when the waters become deep.
Talking Points With President Piper is a weekly column featured in the Examiner-Enterprise newspaper. In addition to serving as the Oklahoma Wesleyan President, Dr. Everett Piper is also a frequent guest commentator on a variety of talk radio programs across the nation, as well as a published author and essayist.