My memories turn back to the time when Father Davidson posed a question at the campfire, “Can we endure living our lives in the face of mystery?” If we are truly unable to uncover, or discover the answers to the most pressing questions of life, is that tolerable? Now, as I await the Father’s funeral, I consider, what to me seems to be, the most difficult of all mysteries: death.
Death has made me want to run, to run as fast as I possibly can; or to hide my face from death and pray that it would go away—ceasing to exist—and trouble me no longer. I have been angry in the face of death, and horrified by its mercilessness; and I have tried to negotiate with death, hoping that it might have a heart. But from the perspective of the living, death appears to be wholly cold and unfeeling.
Again and again I come back to: what is death? In a spiritual or metaphysical sense, what is its meaning, and purpose; what value does it have…and does it even have any value? If it is meaningless, then how much more horrible it must be, than even my worst nightmare has envisioned.
Yet, when my memories turn to the story of Christ’s resurrection, and the hope found in Jesus Christ—bringing back to life his dear friend Lazarus, and his own ultimate triumph over death—I do feel my heart quicken, and my hopes are raised. Perhaps this is the answer I am seeking, and the very thing which will allow me to stand firm in the face of death.
But even if this is the answer, it is still shrouded entirely within a mystery; what are we resurrected into, what really exists on the other side of the grave? Can I tolerate not knowing anything tangible about this; and if I can’t tolerate it, then am I resigned to ignore the problem, and driven to running or hiding from it for the duration of this lifetime? Or will the mystery rather, thrust me into the arms of faith?
I attended Father Davidson’s funeral hoping to discover something useful in regards to the mystery of death; and possibly to discover the faith that might open a door, or shed further light on the world beyond the grave. It was a beautiful Orthodox funeral, and as the Beatitudes were sung, so many of them caused me to reflect upon the life of Father Davidson and how he embodied these blessed virtues. He had certainly lived a beautiful life, no doubt—at least in my mind there was no doubt—but what about his death? Why now? And was there anything beautiful about that?
The service ended with a familiar hymn, appealing to God to remember the departed forever—memory eternal—for the Lord to keep Father Davidson eternally in remembrance. And I thought back to the scene in which I found Father Davidson communing with his icons, and with the cross of Christ before him. It had felt to me then—as throughout most of his life—that Father Davidson was already remembered by God even in this life, and was already living in communion with the Lord.
Father Davidson once said that love allows us to see the truth, and love reveals things previously hidden from view. It is only love which allows us to see beauty in this world; and perhaps only love, also allows us to see through death. Might love give us the eyes to pierce death’s veil; and might love reveal something of what is hidden beyond the grave? Father Davidson loved the Lord with all his heart; so I can believe that his devotion to God allowed him to see where he was going that final night—perhaps the heavens parted as he sat praying, and he saw paradise.
Following the service, I wandered through the cemetery, reading the gravestones while thinking further about life and death. Father Seraphim approached me, at the conclusion of Father Davidson’s graveside service, on his way back to the church. After exchanging a few pleasantries and heartfelt comments about our departed friend, I posed a question: “Do you remember, the last time we were here, we talked about death…you commented that Josh knew how to die in every moment…do you recall that?”
“Yes I do.”
“You know, it’s kind of funny…I mean, maybe cliché…but I always thought he’d die as a martyr. He seemed the type that would die that way,” I said.
“But he did, didn’t he?! Didn’t he die every day in that way?…he didn’t care if he looked the fool, he never cared if he didn’t know the correct answer…he lost everything willingly, he destroyed ambition and striving…and his life was a prayer for others, and continual action for God. He quieted himself, and he heard the Lord,” Father Seraphim concluded, “I think he did die as a martyr, in complete service to others.”
“Yes, I see your point. Of course, that’s true. He lived a beautiful life, I agree; and the death that you are describing is also beautiful. But still…it bothers me…it disturbs me, his death and the loss caused by it…I think about Amelia’s sorrow…his death may be beautiful, but it still feels wrong. I can’t make peace with death—the pain of it, the horror and suffering surrounding it.”
“I think it is difficult to see death clearly, until it is time for us to see; or perhaps until we’re ready to see it. I believe that Josh prepared himself to see this, earlier than most of us; and I think his life was mainly about trying to help the rest of us to see—not only about death, but about a true life as well. The person who lives their life for God…I believe…can see death differently, than those of us who don’t.”
“A beautiful life, that I’ve seen and can understand; but a perfect death, I think, must be a matter of faith,” I concluded.
“Although they are interconnected, I believe, and aspects of the same life—a beautiful life is one lived for others, and a perfect death is a life lived for God,” Father Seraphim concluded.
I ended the day in Father Davidson’s orchard; which for me had always possessed an element of the Garden of Eden, with its multitudinous variety of fruits, and abundance of life. Of all places to pay tribute to the Father, here seemed to me the best and most appropriate.
I stood on the grassy slope, looking down towards the Father’s cabin, and out across the hillside to the ocean in the distance. The setting sun cast its fiery glow upon the cloudy sky and the shimmering waves; his cabin was transformed into a dark silhouette though with its stovepipe chimney flashing brilliantly like a flaming sword. And as the waning light softened, I heard an owl call out from a nearby perch, and I felt a breeze touch my face before rustling into the trees behind me.
I was grateful that Father Davidson had invited me here, and he had wanted to share his life with me; that he allowed me to know him in such detail, never hiding the intimate details of his life, but revealing them unabashedly. When we first met, Father Davidson had posed a question to me, asking if I were friend or foe. I answered that I hoped to be his friend, and he replied: “We shall see.”
At the time, it seemed a very odd thing to ask, but now I feel that he was asking me something much broader than merely whether I would be his particular friend or not; it was really an invitation to be like him. And his question, was would I be a friend to all creation?
Then, I didn’t know. But now I can say: “Yes, Father Davidson, I will be your friend!”
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