You’ve heard of the “thin blue line,” right? It’s a symbolic phrase in law enforcement and known in the public domain as referring to the thin line that exists in society between the protection law enforcement provides and a society that would descend into chaos and violence if not for that thin blue line. Having worked in the world of law enforcement for quite some time now I can attest to the reality that the thin blue line does exist.
There is also another thin line that I believe exists and that is the thin line between life and death. I just happened to visit a dear friend last week who has been suffering a variety of awful health conditions the past few months with no hope for recovery. I spoke with him the day before and told him I, along with a few other dear friends, where coming to visit the next day. He didn’t sound too good on the phone but was encouraged that he was going to see us. He was suffering so much that all he could think of was to leave this life and enter the next with God.
That next day after driving several hours to go the care facility which he had just been moved to, after a few months in a VA hospital, I was able to stand at his side and greet him with words of love and appreciation for our friendship. He had never married and had only a sister living in the Midwest. Another dear friend of all of us had “adopted” him over the last few years and his family was as close, if not closer, than blood family. I and one of the other friends I travelled with were soon at his side since. Only two of us could go in at time. The other friend left the room to go get the other two who were waiting outside. While he was gone I watched our friend cross over that thin line and take his last few breaths.
As the other fellows came in and realized he had passed we all shed a few tears. The five of us had rode a lot of motorcycle miles together the past 35 years including 1800 miles of the Australian Outback on off road motorcycles. We read some scripture and said a few prayers while also reminiscing of days gone by. It was a sweet time of standing on sacred ground where a man crosses that thin line between life and death and life. And it is a very thin line which awaits us all.
I couldn’t help pondering how a human being crosses that line into a realm that we know so very little about. Let’s be honest, we have no clear picture of what awaits on the other side, but we do have great hope that it is a realm where God’s love is manifested completely and way beyond our imagination. We had only a glimpse as if looking into a mirror dimly when Jesus was with humankind and gave us this hope. I read this just today: “Jesus lived and spoke as if the whole world was a thin place for him, with endless dimensions of the divine infinitesimally close, with every moment and every location simply another experience of the divine reality that is all around us, through us, under and above us all the time.”
I watched my dear friend cross that thin line and I knew it was not over, it was only beginning for him. I’ve always had this great sense that what makes us alive is not our bodies but our consciousness which tells us we are more than mere flesh and bones. You too? When our bodies fail us completely, it is not the end. As we experience what the world offers in terms of that which reflects God’s intent…love, grace, mercy, kindness, justice, and serving others (to scratch the service of that reflection)…we taste the other side of the thin line between us and what is next. The more we try to explain the other side or “heaven,” if you prefer, the more we reduce the absolute mystery, a profound mystery which I personally would rather embrace at this point in life than a human construct. The unknowable mystery.
The ten-million-dollar question will always be: “Is there life after death?” People find refuge in religion because it claims with absolute certainty to have the correct answer. We cannot entirely know what happens after we die. We do not know what will happen an hour from now, much less what we will find after we die. All religious teachings and explanations are using words, explanations, descriptions, images, and figurative language to indicate a reality that is not of this world. These signifiers do not correspond exactly and perhaps not even roughly with the thing it claims to be signifying. As the saying goes, “When pointing at the moon, don’t confuse your finger with the moon.”
E.M. Forster wrote, “Death destroys a man, but the idea of death saves him.” In other words, death will one day take our life but knowing this compels us to embrace life more fully and with a greater sense of urgency and importance. This is a recurring theme in the Bible. Moses wrote in Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” King David in Psalm 144 wrote, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” James, the brother of Jesus, wrote in his New Testament Epistle, “You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Might we all live as if all our loving, serving, caring, joy, meaning and purpose will follow us over that thin line into the next chapter.