What a morbid subject, right?
Imagine Hamlet, staring at the skull of Yorick and asking, “To be, or not to be.”
Or Edgar Allan Poe studying a raven while sipping a vial of absinthe and coming up with the word, “Nevermore!”
Or the grim reaper, clothed in a black robe, carrying a sickle and knocking on your door to let you know that the bell tolls of you.
That last image will forever be ruined for me because it always conjures up the scene in the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures when the two teenagers manage to escape the clutches of the reaper by grabbing the waist band on the butt-side of the his underwear and giving it a forceful yank, thus setting up the most memorable quote from the script, “Dude, I can’t believe we just gave death a wedgy.”
I absolutely love this quote, because I think it encapsulates why it’s important to talk about death from time to time. It’s not to drown in the depths of doom and despair, but to wonder what wily ways we can wedgify.
Put in a more sophisticated way, when poets talk about death, they’re not really talking about death, they are talking about life. And one of my favorite poems about death comes from Mary Oliver, aptly titled, “When Death Comes”
Here’s how it begins:
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
Now, if you were in church, it’s at this point that the preacher would probably say something like, “You better make sure that you’ve given your heart to Jesus or else you are going to Hell.” Representing for many all they really want to know about death.
Fortunately poets tend to be much smarter than preachers, giving them a much better grasp of the subject. And so when Mary Oliver stands at the threshold of death, she proclaims that she wants to be able to “step through the door full of curiosity….”
But in order to do that, one has to be ready. And not just by walking the aisle and saying the sinner’s prayer. Rather, as Mary Oliver continues, by being a “bride to amazement….” A “bridegroom taking the world into my arms.”
Holy week is a time for us to reflect on how we can do just that. On Maundy Thursday we pause to consider what it must have been like for Jesus to spend his last evening with his closest friends knowing full well that the next day he would be executed. And in doing so we ask, “What would I do if I knew that today would be my last?”
On Good Friday we ponder the horrors of crucifixion. And in so doing, we ask, “When death finally comes for me, will I be able to say in all honesty, ‘It is finished?’”
Finally, on Sunday, we explore the profundity of how spending a week contemplating death isn’t really about death at all. It’s about life.
When death comes for Mary Oliver, she says,
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
A long time ago, St. Irenaeus put it another way, “The glory of God is a human fully alive.”
And so there you have it, my dear reader,
the best way that I know of to give death a wedgy.