Well you don't believe in Jesus
And not a word is said
When he come all the way down to Lazarus's grave
And raise him from the dead.
Rev. Gary Davis
It's fascinating to watch what happens when a member of our popular culture dies "before their time." I don't really know what we mean when we say someone has died before their time because none of us have any sense at all of the timing of death, in our own lives or anyone else's. I understand what's being said: it's a shame this person didn't have more years, but it's foolish thinking to believe that we are all going to live to be 90, with plenty of time to accomplish all we wish to do while we're here. It would be nice if we could all live long and healthy lives, but the death of David Robert Jones, aka David Bowie, on Sunday, was a powerful reminder that it's a misguided notion. In fact, it's just plain dumb.
From what I read in this morning's New York Times piece on Bowie, it seems that he became über-productive in his final years, seeking, I would imagine, to get as much of his creative juice as possible out into the world before taking his last breath. Before death, the enemy of humanity, stole him away from his family, his friends and his fans and stole from him the time to create more fantastic stuff.
I find it, as I'm sure most have, intriguing that Bowie named his recent and last off-Broadway musical, Lazarus. Lazarus of Bethany was Jesus's good friend. In the Gospel of John, Jesus encounters his friend's dead body and in the one and only time this is ever mentioned in the Bible, Jesus wept. And then he brought his friend back from the dead. In other Biblical bringing back to life encounters, the person is always described as sleeping. Lazarus was, according to the story, dead. Jesus cried, and then restored him to life. Pretty great.
Is this what David Bowie was hoping for as he prepared himself for his own encounter with death? I wonder. A brief stint on the other side, perhaps find some new sources of inspiration there, and then a return to business as usual here as a breathing, living, creating person?
It's certainly worth, at the very least, imagining as a possibility, I guess. It seems to me that if anyone could pull a Lazarus, it would be Bowie.
A new book has arrived in bookstores today and I recommend you give it a read. it's called When Breath Becomes Air, written by Stanford neurosurgeon Paul Kalamithi, who died at the age of 37 last March. I won't ruin it for you; just read it.
We all weep when someone like David Bowie dies, when a young and brilliant father, poet and doctor dies, leaving all of us to contemplate our own mortality, our own choices, the ticking of our own clock. Jesus probably wept over the dead body of his friend Lazarus for one simple reason: death sucks. It robs us all of the opportunity to do more, to love more, to finish projects, be with our kids, hold our lover's hand, go sledding, share a meal, look at the stars on a perfect winter night, to say I'm sorry, to get it right this time. We don't get to kiss anyone when we die, I don't think. We don't get to hold babies or smell pine trees. Death is the great bandit, stealing from us the thing we all want most: one more day.
But there is good news: life gives us all those things. Life, which we have in our warm, capable and loving hands right now, is full of all of that. And more.