Thursday, January 27, 2005

Today's Topic: Your Own Death

"I don't like that word. Don't say it."

I knew full well what the young man meant, but I pressed him anyway.

"Which word was that?"
"You know. Don't make me say it."
"Ohhh! Do you mean the word 'dead'?"
"Don't say it!"
"Why? Death is a part of living. We all will have to die one day."
"Not me. I refuse to do it."

By this time his classmates were beginning to snicker.
"Angel is immortal...he's gonna live forever."

"You know, most of us feel that way when we are young. Like we are going to live forever. Unless someone that we are close to dies, or gets very sick. That's when reality brings us into check. How many of you have been to the funeral of someone who died young?"

More than half of the hands went up.

Death and dying is not usually a topic one would expect to be discussing in a high school art class, but I was preparing them for a video we would be watching about organ donation. An area organization called Life Bank sponsors an annual poster contest for high school students aimed to encourage young people to become organ donors.

Good strategy.

The video made us think about a topic most people try to avoid.
Dying young.

It was a documentary about teenagers whose lives were saved by an organ transplant, and interviews with the families of young organ donors.
After the video, my students started thinking and talking and asking quetions. I love when that happens.
Difficult topics make for the best discussions, and the most opportunities for learning. Today's discussion might even save a life someday.
Most of my students who answered 'No' to the question "Would you like to be an organ donor?", after today's class, will now be answering 'Yes'.

12 comments:

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Mary Beth,

I remember as a small child the nightly prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep..." I think from that time I somehow understood that every night I was preparing myself for death, for eternal sleep, for a loss of consciousness from which I might not recover.

The vast majority of us lose consciousness at least once every 24 hours. So why do we fear something we experience on a regular basis? It puzzles me and it's a question I've raised a few times at the Socrates Cafe (2nd Tuesday of the month, 7:30 p.m. at Nighttown) but we have yet to take up the discussion.

Maybe this month.

B'shalom,

Jeff

marybeth said...

You make an excellent point, Jeff, concerning acceptance versus the fear of death.

I am also familiar with that prayer from my childhood. Such a powerful line: "If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."

In our family, death was always treated a a part of life. It's rituals were as much a part of my childhood as any other family celebration or gathering.
When pets died, there were always funerals. Even goldfish had eulogies.

The families of both my parents lived in Cleveland for several generations, coming here from Europe in the mid-1800's, so there were plenty of old aunts and uncles around town.
Even when we were very small, Mom would pack up all five of her children and bring us along to the funeral homes for the afternoon wakes of many an elderly relative, most of whom we kids had never met. As children, funerals never seemed morbid or frightening, rather they were occasions to hang out and play with our cousins.

I beleive that parents who shield their children from death, are in actuality, doing them a more harm than good. We fear the things the most which we are not familiar with.

mb

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