Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Steaming Heap of Walking Compost

A patient received some difficult news today. The results of the various tests have come back and surgery is no longer an option. In his mind, his death is imminent.

"I'm a dead man walking," he said to me. "You're looking at a corpse, nothing but a steaming heap of walking compost."

With such vivid metaphors, he continued to express his grief, rage, frustration, and despair. "What's the point of it all? There is no point. I'm going to die. We're all going to die. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. We're born, we suffer pain and loss and rejection, and we die. You, me, everyone - all nothing but walking compost."

I couldn't help but think of the smudges on the foreheads of so many Christian people today. It's Ash Wednesday. And so many who profess the Christian faith have been marked with ashes, smudges into a cross. They have heard the uttering of the words, "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Death is certain. For me. For you. For the man who heard the difficult news today. But while I can empathize with him, I cannot share his present belief that this certainty of death makes life meaningless. If anything, the uncertainty of tomorrow gives me the opportunity to grasp today with passionate abandon: to love deeply, to be completely honest with myself and others, to release anger and guilt and those life-sucking bad vibes. If I am nothing but walking compost, I want to be the richest, most stable, most nutrient-filled, most purposeful biodegradation of organic matter I can possibly be.

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