Just now…for some time, really…a number of my colleagues in this madness we call blogging have focused a great part of their efforts on preparing for the collapse of American society. They’ve been gathering the supplies and weapons they believe will be needed for the day when what remains of civil order disappears and the institutions and arrangements upon which most Americans have relied for survival go with it. They anticipate a time of chaos, during which predation and slaughter will run rampant. From such a time, only the most determined and best prepared to survive will emerge.
He who sincerely foresees such a time and bends his energies toward readying himself and his loved ones for it was once called a survivalist. Today he’s more likely to be known as a prepper. Indeed, the neologism has been widely adopted as a label by preppers themselves. Those who resent them for their attitude and labors apply other, unflattering monikers.
But prepping is merely the application of one’s time, resources, and labor to what one expects to endure. In that sense, every man who’s ever lived is a prepper. There’s no reason for anyone to take umbrage at another whose foresight differs from his own. We’re all preparing, at every moment of our lives. It’s just that some of us are preparing for something other than the thundering herd.
But there’s one eventuality for which few of us give much thought to preparing, even though it’s an absolute certainty from which there can be no escape. Lately, my thoughts have gone to that conclusion ever more frequently.
I heard the following tale some years ago. It strikes me as appropriate to repeat it today.
A man was feeling unwell, unusually so, and went to see his doctor. The doctor agreed that the man’s run-down condition and general malaise merited a close look, and ran him through a battery of tests.
The results of the tests were grave: the man was terminally ill. He had only a few months to live. When the doctor told him of his condition, he was immediately stricken with a great fear. “Doctor,” he said, “I’m afraid to die. What happens when we die? What lies beyond death?”
The doctor, an unusually humble man, whispered “I don’t know!” He reached out to take his patient in his arms when there came a commotion from his waiting room. The two men looked toward the door as it burst open and the doctor’s pet dog, a large Newfoundland, swarmed in, jumped into his arms, and smothered him with dog-kisses. When the siege had lifted somewhat, the doctor turned to his moribund patient and smiled.
“Here is our answer,” the doctor said. “My dog has never before chosen to go exploring, but he chose this day to leap over our fence. And what did he do then but to come here, to my office. What did he know of what lay beyond that door? Nothing, except that his master is here, and that was enough.”
The doctor tousled his Newf’s head affectionately. “So it is with us,” he said. “We know nothing of death, and nothing of what lies beyond it…except that the Master is there. And that is enough.”
There’s a wealth of food for thought in that vignette. Death is a great mystery, perhaps the greatest any man can confront. Its inevitability is terrifying in and of itself. A great part of medical science is devoted to putting it off for as long as possible…as is a great part of all our preparations during our lifetimes, regardless of our temporal expectations.
Among the comforts of faith is the suggestion that death is not the true end of our existences – that we are destined for a life beyond this one. Yet there are persons who sneer at faith as “a crutch for the weak.” Many of these denigrate faith in favor of some other recourse. I doubt that I need to enumerate them, their arguments, or their prescriptions for you.
But just a little while ago, it occurred to me that among my loved ones there are several who neither think about the ends of their lives and what might follow, nor have any need to do so.
The following comes from That Hideous Strength:
Mr. Bultitude’s mind was as furry and as unhuman in shape as his body. He did not remember, as a man in his situation would have remembered, the provincial zoo from which he had escaped during a fire, not his first snarling and terrified arrival at the Manor, not the slow stages whereby he had learned to love and trust its inhabitants. He did not know that he loved and trusted them now. He did not know that they were people, nor that he was a bear. Indeed, he did not know that he existed at all: everything that is represented by the words I and Me and Thou was absent from his mind. When Mrs. Maggs gave him a tin of golden syrup, as she did every Sunday morning, he did not recognize either a giver or a recipient. Goodness occurred and he tasted it. And that was all. Hence his loves might, if you wished, be all described as cupboard loves: food and warmth, hands that caressed, voices that reassured, were their objects. But if by a cupboard love you meant something cold or calculating you would be quite misunderstanding the real quality of the beast’s sensations. He was no more like a human egoist than he was like a human altruist. There was no prose in his life. The appetencies which a human mind might disdain as cupboard loves were for him quivering and ecstatic aspirations which absorbed his whole being, infinite yearnings, stabbed with the threat of tragedy and shot through with the color of Paradise. One of our race, if plunged back for a moment in the warm, trembling, iridescent pool of that pre-Adamite consciousness, would have emerged believing that he had grasped the absolute: for the states below reason and the states above it have, by their common contrast to the life we know, a certain superficial resemblance. Sometimes there returns to us from infancy the memory of a nameless delight or terror, unattached to any delightful or dreadful thing, a potent adjective floating in a nounless void, a pure quality. At such moments we have experience of the shallows of that pool. But fathoms deeper than any memory can take us, right down in the central warmth and dimness, the bear lived all its life.
Yet another passage that offers a wealth of food for thought! That lack of “everything that is represented by the words I and Me and Thou” is a projection, as a circular shadow is a projection of a sphere held up to the light, of the inarticulable yearning with which we are all gifted…or afflicted. For Mr. Bultitude’s state, which C. S. Lewis calls “the state below reason,” differs from ours principally in this: we humans recognize ourselves as selves, separate from the rest of Creation: distinguished from all the rest by our sentience and our independent consciousnesses. Reason is our tool for dealing with the rest: compensation, if you will, for our separateness.
How many gurus have made themselves famous (and not a few of them wealthy as Croesus) with some version of the message that “We are all one” — ? Yet while we live, we are not one; we are independent wholes, conscious of that fact and equally conscious that at some undetermined moment in the future our separateness will cease. The yearning to become one with all things inheres in us ineradicably. It’s the price we pay for having individual souls.
Part of our love for our pets arises from our unexpressed envy of that selfless quality. They give themselves to us without a thought to the contrary, in a projection of the infinitely greater love of God for each of the souls He has created. I cannot doubt that many a man has yearned, at some point in his life, to be as un-self-aware as his dog, or as Mr. Bultitude in the passage cited above.
But that state is denied to us…while we live.
The ultimate implication of the gift of faith is that we are destined to become one: one with each other and with the Creator of all people and things: united and yet each of us still aware that we originated otherwise. It’s what makes the prospect of death endurable. Who could face the end of his existence in absolute certainty without going at least slightly mad? Such madness might manifest in a number of ways, with extreme hedonism and extreme asceticism being two of the poles. But it is exactly such abandonment to despair that is the greatest of all hazards to existence. It robs life of something every man requires to live on: meaning.
I could go on in this vein, but I think the point has been made. We should be preparing for many things. It’s our blessing and our burden to be able to do so. But let’s not forget to prepare for that eventuality to which all of us are destined. On that day, whenever it may come, each of us will become one with our Maker…or be cast into the darkness where all preparations come to naught.
Happy (?) Memorial Day weekend. May God bless and keep you all.