The lizard was dead. My 3-year-old grandson Liam took me by the hand and led me out to the patio to visit the body. He had discovered it earlier in the afternoon. He was neither afraid nor sad but, as is common with children his age, mostly fascinated. This was a totally new experience for him, this thing we refer to as death. He wanted to touch the lizard but he didn’t want to touch it. He wanted to pick it up but was afraid to.
He wanted to know what we should do with it. I suggested that we should throw it into the bushes next to the house: dust to dust, ashes to ashes, I explained. But his better human instincts – even at age 3 – kicked in. Somehow this didn’t seem appropriate to him. And so the lizard remained lying in state until later in the day, when Liam’s attention had spun off into a new direction. I then sent the lizard into the hollies, blessing it with a little prayer for the journey.
And thus begins my grandson’s lifelong dance with the issue of mortality, this mystery we call life-and-death. It is hard for me to even bear the thought, but I know that in the not-too-distant future he will confront this mystery again in the form of a beloved pet, and there will be the added dimension of personal sadness and loneliness. Then, inevitably, will come the loss of a grandparent or a special teacher. Tragedy might even befall one of his classmates. I know that the longer he dances with death the more difficult it will become, and that death will not be a partner he chooses but rather the one he is stuck with. Sooner or later the dance will force him to ponder his own mortality, and that of those whom he loves the most.
It is the great and profound mystery of our lives, isn’t it? But, painful as it is, our dance with death, our own experience of mortality, can make us better human beings. It can force us to pay more attention to that which is of real importance in life. Death may be the partner we do not choose, but ultimately it is the partner that teaches us how to dance and how to live, reminding us that each and every step should be a celebration of God’s holy gifts. (Reprinted from THE LONG VIEW, pp. 120 – 121)
Rev. Don Underwood