While watching a show on the Battle of Franklin last weekend, I was struck by a statement the narrator made about life, death, and story. While describing the Lotz family and house being caught in the middle of the Battle of Franklin, he said that every person dies twice. Once when our bodies stop breathing, and then again when our stories stop being told. The narrator said that his goal was to ensure that the story of the Lotz family was never forgotten.
This statement struck me because I am constantly intrigued by the concept of telling stories (my kids can attest to this with our bedtime story adventures). But more importantly, this statement about dying twice helped me to conceptualize how we go about engaging with the fear of living our lives. For one, we can live in fear of our human death, or secondly we can live in fear of our legacy dying.
Living in fear of physical death likely leads to a very safe and cautious life of not taking many risks, if any at all. I think this fear of death takes many different shapes. Sure, we can fear the actual human death when our bodies stop breathing, but I think the more prevalent death we fear is relational in nature. We don’t want to be left alone, to be dead to others whom we care or want to care about. We don’t want to fail at something or in a relationship. We don’t want to start something and not be enough to finish it. This fear of death confronts every one of us. This is the fear of starting a business, speaking in public, seeking out a new relationship, having children, writing a book, or creating something new. I often think that life would look differently if success was defined as how often we failed.
On the other hand if we live in fear of our legacy dying, we’ll be faced with living in pursuit for someone/something that is bigger than ourselves. This is the hard work of life. (And I stress hard work, because it is truly hard work). To live in such a way to this thinking beyond today. It is suffering the reality of delayed gratification (or perhaps sometimes no gratification). To live this way accepts the frailty of physical death and the robustness and power of a story.
One death is certain for everyone. The certainty of the other is what we all must face every day. Will you live to die once, or twice?