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How many mortal beings do you see?

The year was 1980. My father’s body was in the casket in the living room — the same room he had been born in almost exactly 55 years earlier.

Gazing at him for the last time, I remembered the syllogism learned in Logic 101.

All men are mortal.

Richard is a man.

Richard is mortal.

Now, 36 years later, I see something new — the photo within the photo:

my 1966 high school graduation picture, blurry in focus, stares back at me from the table.

All women are mortal.

Shirley is a woman.

Shirley is mortal.

Saint Benedict admonished long ago: “Daily keep your death before your eyes.”

Some people shudder at this thought.

Other people show enormous courage. One of the most gifted writers I have ever read, Paul Kalanithi, was able to not only keep death before his eyes but to do so while living more fully than he had before.

His memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, moved me deeply.

So much so that I wanted to read it again right away.

And so much so that I want to devote the next several posts to the themes that connect this book with Jubilación.

How do death, sorrow, courage, and suffering connect with joy, vocation, meaning, and purpose?

These are questions every conscious adult must face in later life.

Paul Kalanithi faced them at age 36 and died at age 37.

He was a pilgrim.

His wife Lucy, in the book’s epilogue, concludes by quoting from a hymn text unfamiliar to me but written by John Bunyan and derived from Pilgrim’s Progress.

Then she says,

“Paul’s decision to look death in the eye was a testament not just to who he was in the final hours of his life but who he had always been. For much of his life, Paul wondered about death–and whether he could face it with integrity. In the end, the answer was yes.

If you have not yet read When Breath Becomes Air, I encourage you to do so.

If for some reason you aren’t able to read the book, you can benefit by using the links in this post to learn more about both Paul and his equally courageous wife Lucy. If you read Paul’s New York Times essay now, and then listen to the beautiful rendition of the hymn, sung by Maddy Prior, with Bunyan’s original lyrics, I pray you will find courage too.

Who inspires you to be a pilgrim? Tell us the story of someone whose image you carry in your heart when “hobgoblins and foul fiends” assail you?

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