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The Bell Tolls

April 5, 2020

39 of 47

Have you noticed? Everyone’s mind is on death. Avoiding it, its presence, it’s place in life. Death is pretty much everywhere. All the time. 24/7.

Nothing new, dying has been our one universal reality amongst billions of singularities. But the living are left to put it somewhere. Ours is the hardest death to deal with, but the deaths of others change our world and reveal our own expiration date reality.

Emily Dickinson experienced the death of her mother and her beloved correspondent of decades. She was so connected to them that she felt disconnected to her own life when they left her.

My life closed twice before its close—

It yet remains to see

If Immortality unveil

A third event to me


So huge, so hopeless to conceive

As these that twice befell.

Parting is all we know of heaven,

And all we need of hell.

I am guessing that we in our room, like Emily, have plenty of time to think of plenty of deaths. And the ascription of death to COVID19 is, well, convenient to boost all the fear, hype and situation. But my father died of leukemia, but a version that happened a day or few before his death. He was truly killed by his smoking and drinking that made 78 years a miracle of longevity.

Now that the commonality of death is made special by circumstances, some are saying that this time of COVID19 will actually have fewer total deaths than if we were living normal lives. So many lives are not ended other ways when behaviors are changed. But our behaviors are our essential mode of living. The hell of Emily and us is not eternal.

This is now, officially, Holy Week. It is easy to forget that. After thinking about the death of Jesus for 40 days many recreate the week of his death in rituals. 2,000 years goes away, and we see one disgusting death, surrounded by unending thought and emotion. Perhaps not so much this year.

We are wrapped up in a worldwide exposure to mortality, so one death, 100 generations ago, will seem just another to some. But John Donne disagrees:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; …because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee

But this week I disagree with both John and Emily. While the death of so many happens so often, COVID19 or not, life becomes the miracle in its contemplation. Life amid and after death is beyond miraculous and simply inexplicable.

It is Life, after all.

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