Recently, my son asked me a question with respect to how I felt about dying. With so many of my colleagues passing away and so many others my age who have faced the finality of life, he wanted to know what my thoughts might be about the inevitable journey that all of us will take.
Although I read the accounts of the deaths of friends, family, colleagues, classmates and fellow church members, I must admit that I have not frequently or deeply contemplated my demise. I remember the joke frequently repeated in which the preacher in the tent revival asked, at the invitation time, if there was anyone who wanted to go to heaven. All raised their hands except for one elderly man seated on the third row. “I see, sir, that you are not raising your hand,” said the preacher. “Do you not wish to go to heaven?” “Oh, yes, I want to go to heaven,” replied the man, “but I thought you were getting together a group to go right now.” I suppose those are my sentiments at the present time.
Life is a gift for which we all should be grateful. How we handle that gift composes the verses of our lives. And then there is that inner being, perhaps our conscience or the object of our faith that comprises the chorus of this song of life.
I really dislike hearing the excuses so often verbalized today as a means of not accepting responsibility for actions. If a car accident, the person at fault might say someone else cut him off. When someone gets in trouble or is involved in a crime, it’s always that “I was abused when I was a child.” Or the excuse that one came from a poor family and didn’t have the opportunities provided by a financially secure family. Not very beautiful verses in the song of life, is it?
I, too, was the son of poor parents. I recently chatted with a friend who also was a child of poor parents, but he said, “I worked hard to get through school and worked at manual labor to get through college.” The verses of these lives are composed of enduring hard times, working hard and a determination that will not allow a “give up” attitude. After all, life is like a diamond. When extracted from the ground, a diamond is a dull, irregular stone. But in the hands of an expert cutter, it becomes a beautiful work of natural art. But in order for it to become that work of art, it must be cut, not once but many times. When we face the cutter’s tool, we can be formed into a beautiful work of art, or we can allow the pain of the cut to weaken us and cause us to break, much like the diamond might crumble at a weak point.
According to Psalm 90:10, I have already reached the number of days accorded mankind. My hope is that God will permit me to live a long, happy, faithful and prosperous life, but I live, not by my own desires but His. Am I afraid to die? The simple answer is a resounding “NO!” I am not afraid to die; I AM afraid of the process.
God has not promised endless days. My most fervent wish is to be ushered into the presence of God in a peaceful and dignified manner and finally to meet him face to face.
I end with the history and lyrics of one of my favorite songs: “Goin’ Home.”
The opening musical lines are from the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak's famous "Largo" theme from his Symphony No. 9 (From the New World), Op. 95. His symphony was composed while he was in America and was first performed by the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall on December 16, 1893.
It has been said that Dvorak's themes in his symphony were inspired by American folk melodies, especially Black American or American Indian. But his themes are just as similar to Bohemian folk music.
"Goin' Home"was actually written by one of Dvorak's pupils, William Arms Fisher (1861-1948), who adapted and arranged the Largo theme and added his own words. This is part of what Fisher wrote in the published sheet music of his song, "Goin' Home" (Oliver Ditson Company): The Largo, with its haunting English horn solo, is the outpouring of Dvorak's own home-longing, with something of the loneliness of far-off prairie horizons, the faint memory of the red-man's bygone days, and a sense of the tragedy of the black-man as it sings in his "spirituals." Deeper still it is a moving expression of that nostalgia of the soul all human beings feel. That the lyric opening theme of the Largo should spontaneously suggest the words 'Goin' home, goin' home' is natural enough, and that the lines that follow the melody should take the form of a negro spiritual accords with the genesis of the symphony.
Goin' home, goin' home, I'm a goin' home;
Quiet-like, some still day, I'm jes' goin' home.
It's not far, jes' close by,
Through an open door;
Work all done, care laid by,
Goin' to fear no more.
Mother's there 'spectin' me,
Father's waitin' too;
Lots o' folks gather'd there,
All the friends I knew,
All the friends I knew.
Home, I'm goin' home!