Sunday, May 17, 2009

Before Their Time

In the hierarchy of human misfortune, nothing comes close to the tragedy of mothers and fathers attending the funerals of their children. As a Christian I understand that death is the beginning of eternal life in the presence of God, but as much as I try to reconcile faith and fact I still cannot accept a death that occurs out of sequential order. In the past few months I have listened to homilies delivered by sincere, loving and compassionate ministers of God, but still I ache--my heart has a void at its center.

Many years ago in Peru, we would observe the almost daily ritual of funeral processions with grieving fathers holding the tiny coffins of their infant children. And almost daily we would bow our heads and choke back a tear for babies we did not know and parents who should not have to go through this heart-wrenching ordeal. It's a distant land without modern services and they deserve better.

Almost two decades have past, but rarely does a week go by that I don't visualize those solemn processions.

Then a few weeks ago the word came: a young boy from our community who had been battling leukemia for several years finally lost his long fight.

A few days later, the teen-aged son of close friends was killed while engaging in a bizarre ritual that's become all the rage with kids these days.

And last week, the infant daughter of a friend--born prematurely--could not overcome the stresses of her birth. Forever I will retain the image of a young father holding the ashes of his infant daughter in his trembling hands.

During this period I also got word that my oldest friend had been killed in an accident caused by his own recklessness. He was not an infant or a teenager, but his mother and father still had to attend the funeral for their son and, for them, it was a tragedy.

The circumstances surrounding his death are unimportant. What happened was a reflection of the way he lived his life. He never gave the slightest thought for the consequences of his actions, either on himself or others. In his personal life he ran roughshod over the people who loved him. In his professional life he took advantage of our innate desire for deals that are too good to be true. As result, life savings were wiped out and lives were ruined. The victims were all strangers, of course, but it mattered little.

His death, caused by his own reckless disregard, was a final poke in the eye to the people who cared for him.

Four funerals. Eight grieving parents.

In the first three cases the tragedy involves lives cut short, aspirations unfulfilled and talents left untapped.

In the last instance the tragedy was not in how he died or even that he died. No, in this case the tragedy was in how he lived his life and the trail of wreckage he left in his wake.

Into the Fire

A business colleague once told me that rewriting your life story line by line and chapter by chapter is a futile exercise. "If you want a new life," she said, "you have to throw your old life into the fire."

It's not a new idea.

From the legend of the Phoenix to Götterdämmerung to 2001, A Space Odyssey destruction and renewal have been integral to human mythology.

Frustrated by incremental improvements followed by regression, those who seek perfection look to conflagration as the pathway to a better life and a better world. They're probably correct in their thinking.

Evolution takes time, effort and commitment. Destruction provides instant gratification.

On a macro level, we may be living through the final death scene of American freedom and democracy. In 1787 Scottish historian Alexander Tyler observed:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government.

A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.

From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the worlds greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years,these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage."

Can anyone doubt that we Americans have learned how to vote ourselves goodies from the public treasury? More alarmingly, the evidence is clear that we are now in the apathy/dependence phase of the American death spiral.

On the personal level, the Émile Coué de Châtaigneraie mantra gives millions of adherents daily inspiration and a faint glimmer of hope that tomorrow may be better than yesterday.

In reality, when looking back at the illusion of getting better and better, few can claim that daily incremental improvements have resulted in dramatic lifetime transformations.

For most, every day and in every way we descend more deeply into conformity, boredom and despair.

Bejeebers, this is depressing, pessimistic even nihilist. No it isn't.

Every crossroad provides the pathway to a better more rewarding life.

As a nation, throwing our old ideas about governance and civic responsibility into the fire may lead to a better society if we choose the right path.

For me, eliminating negative influences, tearing off self-imposed shackles and pursuing a new life story--in effect, throwing my past life into the fire--can and will lead to a happier, more productive and far more rewarding life.

Today, I've resolved to begin the next phase of my of life with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and creative energy.

I'm also very confident that generations to come will create a better world out of the ashes of our collective selfishness and profligacy and that I will see that better world in my lifetime.