Memento Mori

Where is God in this?

Or for those less God-inclined:

Where is Love in this?

I find this question really helpful. Sometimes it’s a lament, but more often it’s like one of those “Where’s Waldo?” puzzles that were big a couple decades ago, where the question invites you to stop and look at the easy-to-miss angles, looking for love to show up in the mundane or the terrible.

While we were visiting Betsy at school, we attended a “celebration of life” for one of her classmates, Pato. They weren’t close, but they were both second-year theater majors, and she was stage-managing a festival of student-written works that included one of his creations. He was in an accident the week before it opened and died a few days later. They debuted his work for his family and friends the evening before the festival, and the celebration of life was the day after the run of the festival.

That was hard to find God in. When Betsy said she saw a father doing laundry in her dorm, and thought for a second he looked like Pato’s father, the thought of a father and mother packing up their son’s room forever while everyone around them is just packing up for summer break was too awful to sit with. (It turned out to not be Pato’s father, just a dad who is way too hands-on. Though if he knew about Pato’s death, I would give him a pass on that.)

So where is Love in all this?

At the service, Pato’s father spoke to the pain and emptiness of what he and Pato’s mother were going through. And then he talked about how the community – not just their family, but the school community of students and faculty and staff and administration and other families – had wrapped them up in love and support and shared memory. So Love was there.

And before that, Pato’s roommate and best friend (and already, at 20, a C-list celebrity) sang a song he and Pato co-wrote about seizing life in a way that only 20-year olds can sing. Maybe he or one of the others in Pato’s “We’re going to make it big” crowd of close friends will use Pato’s death as inspiration to do something special. Love would be there, too.

I have discovered that not everyone has this experience, but when I am around death, it makes me think about my own mortality. Memento Mori is not only the name of the gift shop next to the Haunted Mansion; it’s also a long Catholic tradition of remembering that you will die as a way of contextualizing your life. 

That can be risky, if your mind goes straight to what’s-the-point despair or you dwell in the depression of “Would as many people miss me as him?” comparisons.

But it can be good, too. Realizing that tomorrow isn’t promised can help you savor today. Knowing death comes for us all can give some urgency to the important things you might be tempted to put off. 

Yogi Berra allegedly said “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” If you can focus on who would miss you if you were gone (instead of who wouldn’t), it can be kind of a scoreboard of love’s legacy. And if your imagined funeral isn’t as packed as you want it to be, maybe it’s a nudge to make the world a little better, to offer a little more kindness, to make yourself a little more missable tomorrow. Love ends up in that, too.

I’m not a big believer in God being in “having a plan” that will “all work out in the end.” Maybe I pulled a hope muscle or something. I resist romanticizing or excusing horrible things as part of a bigger beauty tied up in a bow.  

But I do see the tiny beauties in the carnage, the almost invisible ripples of goodness that come off of the worst of times. I don’t think it’s a fair trade, but I do see that Love is there, if I look hard enough, as the remnant in the wreckage that lives to love another day.

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