Death, The Ceaseless Tragedy Of Life
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Commonplace, But Always Sacred
It was almost four on a September morning. A young man in the vigor of his strength was walking slowly out a deserted street of one of our Atlantic seaboard cities.
The gray was well streaked up the east. The new day was pushing away the dying night's blackness. But he scarce noticed it, if at all. He was too much taken up with another conflict of light and night, in his spirit.
His step was slow, his head bent. A deep mood gripped him hard. He was in the heavy daze of something new, that is, it was new to him. His house was not far from a famous park. A small quiet graceful stream ran through it.
He climbed the green-clad hill where the city's water was stored. It overlooked the river beyond, with the wavy mass of the quieting green of the tree-tops nearer. He drew a little limp-covered book from his pocket. And he sat down, by turns, looking out over the green and the water, reading in the book, looking up into the blue.
A few hours before a life had slipped out of his clinging grasp. He had clung tenaciously $ut softly, gradually, insistently, her spirit had slipped away and was gone. He was dazed with surprise and grief. It had never occurred to him that she would die. He had held on with love's unyielding hold till there was nothing left to hold on to. She was gone. Only the breath-less bit of a precious form remained.
They two had been as closely knit together in spirit as two ever were, or could be. But now she was gone, gone quite beyond recall That was clear, quite clear. He was outwardly very quiet, attending to the things that needed doing.
But within he gasped. He could not seem to get his breath. All life was changed. The world was a different place. She was gone. The daze of it was thick upon him ; not stupefying, no, making him keenly sensitive and alert in spirit, more than ever.
Now he. sat still. The question asking itself of him where is she? The precious bit of tenemental clay was there, tenderly cared for. But where was she? Not there ; somewhere ; where?
The little book seemed to open itself at John, the dear old John story of Jesus. And it seemed to stay open as readily at that unforgetable Bethany page, the Eleventh Chapter.
A new soft light shined in upon, and then out of, the old words. And a quiet peace came stealing in, a new peace, sweeter, realer, in the overwhelming daze that well-nigh swamped him.
But a great lone feeling gripped at his heart, mingling with the peace even while yielding to it.
He can't remember how long he sat. Then he climbed slowly down the hill, back along the street they had so often walked together hand in hand.
Back he went to the old house and the old round, but to a changed life. It would never be the same again. It couldn't be. He had entered into the sorest experience of his life. He has never forgotten it. Its memory clings still as fresh as though but yesterday.
"The lights are all out
And yet how commonplace ! Yes, common-place in its commonness, its frequency, monotonously commonplace. No, no, quite wrong, never commonplace, sacred, hallowed, a thing quite by itself in its loneliness and grief, though it happen every hour of the day, to some son and daughter of man.
For death is the commonest thing in life. Its shadow never leaves. The postman puts the black-bordered reminder into your hand. The caller's card has the same touch. The garb you passed just now on the street, the half- masted flag, the tolling of the church bell, the low requiem breathing out the church windows, the slow-moving procession these are daily things. Commercialism halts the telegraph system of a nation a scant five minutes to tell out honor to some one gone, and then picks up its mad rush again. The trolleys and trams at a brief stand still, the white monument draped in black, and public buildings covered with the clothes of grief, these tell the same ceaseless story.
If you open the old Book, it's barely open be-fore you hear Eve's sobs over her boy lying so still. Almost at once you are in that striking Fifth of Genesis with its requiem of sorrow chanting monotonously, "and he died."
The despairing cries of a race going down under the great wash of inundating waters, and the wail of broken hearts in Egyptian homes over the first born gone, catch your sensitive ear.
If you hurry on through the pages to get away, it is but to hear the dear old Singer of Israel sobbing his heart quite out over his handsome self-willed boy.
And the newer leaves open with the cries of the broken-hearted mothers of little Bethlehem among the hills. The symphony of sorrow seems never to get to its end.
And death is always a tragedy to somebody. Life is tragic. Death seems but the dark double-knotting on the end of the tragic thread of life. Never a day passes without death breaking some heart. Never a corner safe from the dripping rain of death's tears sometime.
Homes are broken up. The hearthstone is left to its white ashes. The dear loved family circle is scattered beyond reunion here. Habits of a life-time are snapped in their toughest threads. Plans and ambitions lie scattered to the mocking winds. And memory trails its minor chords along every street and hallway of the bruised heart and rudely disturbed life.
The world's worst war has added a terrific emphasis to all this. It was bad enough before. It is running riot now, seemingly an unchecked, unrestrained, ghoulish riot, despite statesmen and law-makers, armistices and treaties, and all the rest.
But there is something yet more tragic than these things. There is the terrific uncertainty in most minds and hearts growing out of these things. Uncertainty, where the heart's involved, where love's on tenter-hooks, that comes to be the worst pain that can come.
The questions come trooping in, insistently, incorrigibly, by day and by night, demanding asking space, and giving no breathing room in-between. Is he still alive? Is there a spirit world? Is there really something beyond this life? Where has he gone? How are things with him now ?
All over the world, Orient and Occident, below the equator and above it, in savage krall and cultured home, among so-called heathen peoples and in the shining of the flood light of truth, the cry breaks out of human hearts, where has he gone? Sorrow makes all the race akin. Differences, hatreds, prejudices, are submerged in the hour of a common sorrow.
Yet there's clear light. There's an answer to these questions. There is certainty in the place of uncertainty. There's positive dependable information at hand. It's enough to give the gold-en tint to every black cloud. There's another bit
of music that comes to overcome minor chords in the symphony of sorrow, even while these still give their sweetened underchording to the new joyous rhythm,
And of that certainty we want to talk a bit now. We want to find the keynote of the mingled symphony where joy sweetens sorrow, and sets your hearts a-singing and a-tingling, through the bit of waiting for the reunion day.