In order to walk to class, I tumble through a tangled garden path and descend the hill behind our house. The landscape is neglected and precarious, but I have mastered a series of moves: duck well beneath the lanky rose bush, favor the sturdy clods of dirt during the first steps downhill, high-five the tree to stay aright, grasp the chain link fence (avoiding cobwebs) while sliding atop dead leaves, and make the last few strides with abandon.
One morning after a storm, the garden path was blocked by a fallen tree-limb. Its already half-dead branches clawed at the chain link fence and choked the garden plants. As I stepped over the fray I noticed a lone lily rising from between the tree limbs.
The scene reminded me of a slogan Ancient Romans often carved into their graves: Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo. I was not, I am, I am not, I care not. The Romans tempered life with news of death, achieving an uneasy peace. The tangle of finery and pagan worship could not contradict the finality of death or the inevitable return of namelessness. The response to this was apathy.
It’s easy to see this attitude in modernity. Though few would willingly make the Roman slogan their funeral epitaph, many give themselves over to the attitude. We prefer a comfortable despair, surrounded by the finer things, not daring to hope for anything that lasts forever. The telos of namelessness justifies a range of actions, from excessive consumption to profound indifference.
But we know, as Christians, that beautiful things rise from the midst of a dead tree. We foster life with the news that death is dead. Our peace is uneasy, too, as we await the fullness of life. Still, we accept faith as a supernatural gift and cling to it by human choice. We resolve to act as people of hope, knowing our actions are investments in something beyond the grave.