Delving into the Intangibles

   Question without an answer  

Is it not the will of God when human beings suffer greatly before they die? Is it not the work of God, too, when family members are dog-tired from nursing their kin? Even in the depths of sorrow from the death of a loved one, we sometimes feel a sense of relief and accept the fact calmly. Is this not also part of the providential care of God? I have been asking myself these questions lately. Death comes equally to us all, and nobody can escape it. Such is the unavoidable fact of an aging society.

From the moment of our birth, our lives are moving toward the end: death. Life and death are something like the “head” and “tail” of a coin. We are carrying the tail of death on our shoulders. Without a doubt, it is hard to live with an unsupportable burden. Even so, most agree that life is better than death, no matter how painful life can be.

Because we suffer, we strive all the more for something better. The joy of living can be appreciated only after we have gone through many hardships. The pain and joy of life can be said to exist in an ambivalent relationship.

While it remains ideal for us to die a “good death,” a “healthy death,” we must not forget the many unfortunate people who have to live a "bad death" or a "sick death." If you should become demented or fall into a vegetative state, you will no longer be properly aware of your own existence.

We who are privileged to live during this particular blink of eternity, no matter how short and limited a life ours may be, must cherish it. Each one of us is assigned a role to be fulfilled.

While I am thinking along these lines, without realizing it, I pick up a CD. It is a recording of deeply meditative music, entitled “The Unanswered Question,” by the American composer Charles Ives (1874-1954). The sound cannot be easily described, beyond words like “odd” or “strange.” The trumpets ring as if to demand, “Please answer me.” But no clear answer comes back, only the vague and muddy sounds of woodwinds. It is a music of “question and answer,” going back and forth.

As I listen to the puzzle-like echoes of the musical instruments in this very short composition, I immediately realize that Ives is asking the Intangible question, “What is death?”

Encouraged by his music, I feel that I, an elderly Japanese woman, and the American composer Ives, who is no longer of this world, are symbiotically sharing time as fellow human beings. The question may not be answered, and yet, “ No answer can be found” might be the very answer.

Through all ages and times, there is probably not one person who has failed to ask this simple but fundamental question during his or her life. I am glad if there are many like me on the planet. I am sure that, in this questing, I am symbiotically connected to every other person.

As I get older, and my mind and body show evident signs of weakening, I come to realize I cannot fight death. At the same time, it is heartening to realize that my ability to accept reality has greatly improved.

When I was younger and full of energy, the problem of death could be interpreted only as something to “fear.” But now, as my own “preparation for death" proceeds in its proper way, to ponder this ultimately Intangible question isn’t so bad, is it? Thus, I shall make this year more fruitful, steadily fulfilling my own role.

The “Question without an answer” will not appear on an entrance examination paper for university, but if you address it faithfully, you will surely be convinced that “the time of our lives” is the most precious thing we have.

This is the paradoxical lesson from death.

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