When I was a child, one of the more amusing commercials on television that I remember featured a person blindfolded and facing a firing squad, and asked what they wanted on their tombstone, and the response would be something like “cheese and pepperoni,” which led to the preparation of the Tombstone Pizza for the heretofore apparently condemned man to eat. Even if one did not find the pizzas to be that good, the advertising and marketing of the pizzas was inventive. There is a truism that those products which are often particularly poor in quality, like bland mainstream American beers, often have the most clever and creative marketing, and anyone who has ever seen the advertisements in the Super Bowl for beer can surely recognize that truth. That said, the question of what one would want on one’s real tombstone is a question that can be asked and answered as well, even if it is less amusing and entertaining than the discussion of frozen pizzas.
Unlike many people, I know exactly what I want on my tombstone and have thought at some length about it . To be precise, what I want on my tombstone is a poem that I wrote on August 27, 2008, which reads as follows:
Vivir es sufrir.
Mori res dormir.
Aqui no sufrirè nada más,
Así dèjame dormir en paz.
The poem, translated from its native Spanish rhyme into English, makes a great deal of sense:
To live is to suffer.
To die is to sleep.
Here I will suffer nothing more,
So let me sleep in peace.
When I went to court recently as an observer of a case about several children taken away from their drug addict parents , one of the more interesting and somewhat obscure tidbits was the fact that a former foster parent of those children, in the face of the stress of dealing with three children from an extremely dysfunctional family while her own mother was dying of cancer, expressed a hypothetical question as to whether the world would be better off without her. This sort of suicidal ideation, as it is called, is often considered to be a particularly bad sign, and as someone who has myself struggled on occasion to summon the will to endure an often deeply unpleasant life , but despite the fact that it is considered to be fairly alarming from the point of view of psychology, it has been immensely rich in its film and literature portrayals. A couple of examples are worth going into in at least some detail.
In the film adaptation to the C.S. Lewis Narnia novel The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, one of the more imaginative scenes from a richly imaginative movie is the wish that young Lucy Pevensie makes that she had never existed, which causes a ripple effect of changes that helps Lucy recognize the worth of her life in the face of her discouragement. More famously, the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, where an intensely gloomy drunk driver meets a novice angel trying to earn his wings and finds out that his world is a much better place with him in it than would be the case otherwise. The astute viewer of both of these films is encouraged to draw the conclusion that no matter how difficult and unpleasant life may seem, the world is or ought to be a better place because we are in it, even if that is hard to understand sometimes.
What makes it so difficult for us to understand the worth of our own lives? For one, when we live and struggle, we are not aware of the larger cosmic significance of what we are going through, nor do we often have a vision of the Kingdom of God that we are seeking to arrive at. When we are gloomy and morose and reflecting rather glumly on our lives, we do not see the ways that our lives have helped and improved the world for those around us. At times, there are things that we do, and do without thinking about it much, that few if anyone else would be willing or able to do on this earth, because we were in the right place at the right time with the right awareness and insight and abilities. Of David, for example, the Bible says in Acts 13:36 that David did the will of God in his own generation. If the same can be said about us, we have done what we were put on this earth to do, and what can be written on our tombstone is that we were a faithful servant of God, and when we dead awaken, it will be into the Kingdom of God, where we can live without the torment and difficulty that makes our lives so unpleasant for now.
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