“No-one could live as though death did not exist. Like others from his time, Donne kept a skull on his desk as a reminder, memento mori.” (Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor)
I was once a Goth. I think that those who know me know this fact. I listened to Bauhaus, dressed in black and had my friends accuse me of performing a ‘dying duck act’. I think that it was the cover of Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” that took me in the direction away from Rock and into Goth. Goth seemed to reinforce my love of Roman Polanski’s “Macbeth” with its dark setting and graphic violence adding weight to the words:
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The mortality of man cannot be ignored. It should be embraced. We should think that it is given to man once to die, and then the judgment. But America dismisses thoughts of death and dying, hiding them in ways that other cultures do not. Around Halloween, America displays a picture of death that is horrifying and repulsive.
I went shopping for a skull at Gurnee Mills. There was a shop that had skulls set up for Halloween and I went inside. Most of the skulls had blood pouring from the eye-sockets or wore a frown, a snarl or a wicked grin. They weren’t a simple reminder that we die and decay, these were fiends from the abyss chasing me down to suck out my soul. As I searched the store it became increasingly obvious that these were shock items, stocked alongside questionable games and sexy lingerie.
I found another shop with a skull with bright, red, flashing eyes. It was displayed with a scythe. Nice. So here is death hunting me down again. At the foot of Death there were spiders with skulls for heads and boney legs. Each one of them looked malevolent and bent on evil. Is death evil?
I picture my father. He has been dead for a few years now. As he died he became thin and yellow. The gaunt face seemed to show flesh retreating to reveal the skull. We burned his remains at the crematorium. Yet, the thought of his skeleton laying beneath the ground would have cause me no pain. The bones would have been a reminder to me that this is where we go. We would have set up a headstone remembering his life. But my father was ready for death. He died thanking God for his beautiful life.
Young people need to see death as they do in Pakistan. My neighbor was publicly displayed for two days afer he died when he fell through a roof. They put ice cubes at his head and his feet so that fans could blow cool air over them and down the length of the yound man’s lifeless body. I was eighteen and would walk past the body and the wailing each day. I thought, “This will be you, Peter Worrall. Are you ready?”
I want a skull. Just a normal skull. I want to have it in my office so that I can remember that I do not live forever. I may then treat each day like it was my last – I know that I would suck the marrow from each passing hour.
To live is Christ to die is gain.