The solitary is a man who has made a decision strong enough to be proved by the wilderness: that is to say, by death. For the wilderness is full of uncertainty and peril and humiliation and fear, and the solitary lives all day long in the face of death. 114

It is the one irrefutable fact of life. I am going to die.

The Psalmist reminds me that

As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
(Psalm 103:15,16)

I know neither the hour nor the manner of my dying. Physical death is hemmed in on every side by “uncertainty.”

Will I die alone? Will my death come after a long wasting illness? Will I die in a sudden catastrophic event? Will it be peaceful at the end? Or, will I die in pain?

I live “all day long in the face of death.” The reminders are undeniable. The markers of death exist all around me. The only escape from death is denial. And denial carries a step price for anyone wishing to live in reality.

St. Athanasius of Alexandria the fourth century Coptic bishop in his treatise On Virginity counselled,

Recall your exodus every hour; keep death before your eyes on a daily basis.

It may seem gloomy counsel; but there is wisdom in the Alexandrian Bishop’s advice. Awareness of death helps me navigate the wilderness through which life often travels.

The inevitability of my eventual “exodus” from this physical realm helps loosen my grip on the material aspects of life that so preoccupy my days. Knowing that the day is fast approaching when all these concerns that today seem so important will be gone, helps me loosen my grip on those things to which I cling. At the same time, death makes more precious and beautiful the transient realities I cherish in this time-bound dimension through which I travel for the short years of my physical journey.

What hinders me from contemplating the inevitability of my own death?

What shifts inside me when I take seriously the reality that the day is coming when this place that now knows me, will know me no longer?

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