Sunday, February 19, 2006

Thoughts of Mortality

Yesterday, my father-in-law died. He was a severe alcoholic, and was not an active part of the family for about twenty years. I met him a few times, but only after the disease had sapped his intellect. It has been difficult dealing with this, because of the disconnect between wanting to feel sad about the death of a relative and not feeling sad because the lack of a real relationship. I'm also uncertain how to help my wife, for similar reasons.

Both of us have thought about our own mortality. For me the thoughts came this morning. I was primed by Deborah Stein's talk on Jake Heggie's opera, Dead Man Walking. The sextet at the end of Act I is all about the love and loss felt by the parents of the murdered couple and the mother of the killer. Each set of parents felt a guilt – sharply portrayed by Heggie's music – that they had failed their children. I was already in a state of angst from this experience, when I heard the news. Then, this morning I was sitting in church with my daughter on my lap. Something about the sermon brought me back to the death and the opera. I wondered whether I would let my children down, and then more generally when I would leave my children behind in death. While I am a Deist, I have had the rare fear about a vengeful God with visions of an idiosyncratic Hell. In this Hell I am disembodied in a darkness imbued with pain and sorrow. I remembered this fear this morning, though it has not driven me to a Pascal's Wager yet.

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