Are you dead or alive? Alive people are awake and aware—they’re open to the whole of human life. They’re open to receive all the gifts and joys and exquisite delights of human life—and they’re just as open to receive the suffering and the disappointment and the sadness. They can sit with that, too, and not be afraid of it…but just let it be.
Dead people are not open to receive these things. We are so good at avoiding, shutting down, denying, running away. We find a thousand ways to anaesthetize ourselves against both the pain and the joy.
Why we numb ourselves to the pain is obvious enough, but the joy? That’s because neither pain nor joy can be controlled. You can’t make it come; you can’t make it go. Since our major goal in life is control, we’re basically dead.
How do you know if you’re dead or alive? That’s the only Easter question that matters. We waste a lot of time debating whether or not Christ was really and truly alive, when what matters is: are you?
The other evening I was among some friends. We were talking about movies and I mentioned Christopher Plummer. Somebody said, “Oh, didn’t he die recently?” Well, I didn’t think so, but with movie stars whose images still light up the screen, it’s easy to lose track of who’s alive and who’s dead.
One man said, “That’s easy. We’ll just go to deadoralive.com.” He calls it up on his phone. We enter “Christopher Plummer” and a smiley face comes up next to his name with a simple heading: “ALIVE.”
Somebody else thought Kim Novak was dead, and I thought she was long gone. We typed in her name; she came up with a smiley face too. I was thinking, Did Paul Newman die, or was it his wife Joanne Woodward who died? We type it in. A skull comes up next to Paul Newman. “DEAD.”
Wouldn’t it be convenient—spiritually—if we could check our status like that. Dead or alive? Just because I’m vertical, walking around, talking, doesn’t mean I’m alive inside. Being alive is a gift, and we must accept it. It’s an acceptance we make not just every day, but every moment.
Near the end of his short life, Martin Luther King said these words. “You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you want to live longer…you’re afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will shoot you; so you refuse to take that stand. Well you may go on to live until you’re 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”