There is only one thing that scares me about dying. It is so momentous that it rocks my heart with grief whenever I think of it. It is a tumultuous rocking that resembles the Mississippi River in New Orleans when the ocean is signaling that a vicious hurricane is headed that way.
It is not how I’ll die that shakes me. Whether it is long and suffering or quick and merciful, it will be what it is ordained to be. It makes to me no sense to dread it, ponder it or even give it a second’s thought.
I do not quiver with anxiety over where I will be when I die even if it is on a foreign soil like New York City which will mean I will have to be sent back home to my beloved Southland by train or plane. Though, for the record, I prefer to come home by train in a simple pine box. Trains are much more romantic than planes. In every song that Dolly Parton has ever written about leaving her lover, she goes on a train. There is romance in the steam, in the gentle chugging as the wheels slowly begin to turn and ease the caboose down the track. If I must die elsewhere and return to the soil of my raising, I want to return slowly, passing with deliberate care over the dirt of other Southern states.
I do not worry about my length of years for this I know: Some people live too long while some die too young. That, I have decided, is all determined by how much money you have left when the undertaker comes. If you have money left over, you died too young. If you ran out of money years before, you lived too long. I knew a man once who died with $186 in his pockets and nary a cent more except for a small insurance policy to pay his funeral. He was healthy up to the moment that a mighty heart attack dropped him to the ground. He will always have my full admiration. He came out as close to even as anyone I’ve ever known.
I do not worry what will happen when I bid this vale of triumphs and tribulations good-bye. I believe with full conviction that I am a child of the Lord Jesus Christ and that I am assured a place in heaven. As Daddy oft said, “My name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” So, where I am going when my eyes close in death is a pleasant thought, the pot of gold at the end of this life’s rainbow. I’m confident of that.
If I’m not worried over how I’ll die, when I die, where I die or what happens when I die, then what is my heart-rocking concern? It is almost too sad for me to write but we have always been friends, you and I, and shared my secrets so here is the deepest one: I have no doubt that I am going to die, leaving stacks of books behind me that are unread.
This breaks my heart.
I’ve been best friends with books since before my birth when Mama was put to bed for four months to rest and she took up reading a brand new set of encyclopedias that Daddy had recently bought my college-enrolled sister. I emerged from the womb reaching not for a rattle or pacifier but for a book. By 4, I was winning reading awards at the library and the rack of Little Golden Books at the A&P attracted me like a magnet. Mama always let me buy one.
This house runneth over with books but many are unread. They lay in stacks, waiting to feel my hands and my love. The thought that I should die before all my reading is done, sorrows me greatly.
Maybe, though, I’ll come out even.