One Wild and Precious Life
Remember death, appreciate life
When does someone become “old”? This seemingly simple question is not easy to answer.
In one poll, the most popular response among Americans was “turning eighty-five.” Arthur Brooks mentions this in From Strength to Strength and adds, “In other words, the average American (who lives to seventy-nine) dies six years before entering old age.”
I have long been interested in how people of different cultures and eras have approached old age and death. My sense is that most Americans today try to avoid the conversation.
Catholics of a previous generation were taught to pray for a happy death. That was not my experience. In two decades of Catholic education, I cannot remember a single time someone prayed for a happy death.
I recently visited the Capuchin Crypt, a set of small chapels that contain the skeletal remains of 3,700 Capuchin friars.
One cannot ignore death when passing from the “crypt of the skulls” to the “crypt of the pelvises.” There is a placard that reads, “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be.”
The experience can be unsettling, but also clarifying. It's better to recognize the fragility of this “one wild and precious life,” rather than run away from reality.