Peace in the Leaving

I think that I can legitimately say that I had a moment of clarity, lying in bed late Saturday night. I was reading on my iPhone about Ruby Dee, an African-American actress and activist, who starred, alongside Ossie Davis, to whom she also was married for 40 years or more, in “A Raisin in the Sun” (in 1961). She and Ossie were personal friends with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, and several other leading lights in the Civil Rights Movement. Ossie delivered the eulogy at Malcolm X’s funeral. Ossie passed away in 2005. Ruby left this world a little later, on June 11, 2014.

In describing her mother’s death, Ruby’s daughter Nora Day said, “She very peacefully surrendered. We hugged her, we kissed her, we gave her our permission to go. She opened her eyes. She looked at us. She closed her eyes, and she set sail."

When I read those words, and pictured Ruby Dee’s loving family gathered around the deathbed of their family matriarch, and Ruby’s face, with her closed eyes, which opened and then closed again, that’s when the clarity of which I spoke earlier came to me — suddenly, as clear as a bell, or a glistening crystal. “She opened her eyes. She looked at us. She closed her eyes, and she set sail.”

You see, perhaps for years, although I have held firmly to a belief in the reality of eternal life and an afterlife, I have struggled with the thought of ever having to leave this physical world — with its physical, material things and physical, material reality, and other physical, material people (family, friends, loved ones) —behind — perhaps forever. Although I have always known in my mind that the life that begins when this one ends has to be far better than, superior to, this one, perhaps infinitely so, I still have found it hard to imagine going somewhere without any “stuff”, and of losing all physical corporeality. I guess, in a way, I feared what seemed to my finite, rational mind to be, inherently, the suffering of what seemed to be a great and final and irrevocable loss: of no longer holding anything, or owning anything; of not even having a physical body anymore. (Of course, we are told, at the resurrection, we will have physical, tangible, material resurrection bodies.) But when I read Nora’s description of Ruby’s death, which she witnessed with her own eyes, I finally “got” it — the letting go of the known, to surrender to the unknown — to embark upon the next great adventure, with the realization that it will be so much better, and we will be free, and it will be filled with excitement, and wonder, and joy, and, most importantly and beautifully of all, the manifest and continuous Presence of God.

After this moment of clarity, I knew that I could and would have peace in dying, that never again would I need to fear the loss of the here and now, because I believed and saw that what is to come will be an everlasting gain. Those words of Paul’s now seem more real and true and personal than ever before to me: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21 NKJV) When a person closes his or her eyes in death, their spirit and soul departs on a journey, as real and geographic as a physical earthly journey, a joyful, peaceful, exciting, thrilling journey, which will end in the glorious, illuminated Presence of Almighty God. And that, my friends, is just the beginning!

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