Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"I AM ABOUT TO DIE": Clumsiness, Mortality Awareness, and the Chronic Non-Joiner, Part I

When I was about six, my mother enrolled me in a swimming class. She has a photograph of my bony, blue-white frame being lifted down into the water by a bronzed, Apollo-esque college student with sun-bleached hair. I am crouching in midair, my limbs folding up against my body with fear as the massive, muscled hands draw me down. I am afraid that I am going to die.

I was terrified of drowning. The water was dim and heavy and pressed on my chest. Each time water got up my nose I would thrash around, panicked that I was dying. The lessons ended on the day that the class was sent up the meter diving board and jumped, one by one, into the arms of the instructor below. I had a screaming fit and was carried back down the ladder.

"When did you become aware of your mortality?" I asked my husband last week.

"Well, I remember one time when I was sixteen. I was walking on the side of the road, and there was a car coming, and I thought about what it would mean if I got hit. That was the first time I really understood that I could get hurt so badly that I wouldn't get better."

That's a strange concept for me. I've always lived in fear of dying painfully, just like I've always lived with gravity. Experience and education taught the physics and terminology of injury and of gravity, but they added to preexisting knowledge.

There are moments of revelation that explain a new truth. When I reached puberty, there was a moment when I realized that my body was now capable of producing another person. That was new: something wasn't, and then it was.

There are moments of revelation that explain a truth that already exists: I spent a frustrated three days studying a trigonometry formula before I suddenly grasped it and was able to solve the homework problems. The formula already was; I just didn't understand how it worked. Mortality awareness is the revelation of an already-truth. A person can die before a person can do much of anything.

"That's not true," she said, "because Jesus knew that he was about to be in Heaven with God, so he wasn't afraid. I know that if somebody came through that door with a gun right now I wouldn't be afraid, because I believe that I'd go to Heaven."

Dr. Doyle stared at her for a moment, then said, "That's not because you have faith. That's because you are a young adult, your brain is not fully developed, and you haven't grasped the nature of your mortality."

So what happens if a small child with an undeveloped brain has grasped the nature of her mortality? Well, for one thing, she's going to really suck at sports. You aren't supposed to scream and cover your skull when a baseball is flying at you.

I always read these things really carefully.

"'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' speaks powerfully about Jesus' humanity," my Christology professor told the classroom of nineteen- and twenty-year-olds. "People are drawn to it because they find it comforting that Christ shared in our suffering and our fear of death." A girl in the back put up her hand.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the post. As a fellow non-joiner I know how you feel. As I'm a Brit I suppose we do fear of cricket bats! Thanks too, for saying hello over at 'radref'. Shalom, phil