The Vessel

A Poem and Reflection on the Nature of Death

A Monk Contemplating by Thomas Couture (c. 1875)

“But now, O’ Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” -Isaiah 64:8

 
 The Vessel

O’ man filled with years 

Now lies a vessel of drear  

 

Who once walked and labored this world 

Ploughed, sowed, danced, and loved 

Will thou fly high like the doves above 

 

Go in peace, O’ man of hollow 

In the House of the Lord 

Ye are free of pain and sorrow  

-Toxic Scribe

 

Behind the Poem

&

My Reflection on Death

In early August of 2019, I was working at a Hospital located over an hour away from home. I worked as a Patient Care Technician on overnight shifts (6pm-7am) along-side with nurses in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) ward, making the job harsh on the mind and body, yet the experience was humbling. 

September 10th of 2019, was the first shift when a patient under my care passed away. It was my first time as a witness to death; the discomfort, pain, and the last few breaths taken from the individual. As is the code to not reveal the name of patients, I will say that he was an elder man. He suffered very much, and I could not imagine what he was experiencing with his body and soul. His wife was there the whole time, and not once did she leave his side. Then a little after 1:00 AM he took his last breath. It was a solemn moment… The nurse and I both sat beside the wife as she mourned her husband’s passing. Afterwards, she began to call her family and friends, to which I went and took a seat on the opposite side of the room near the deceased. I remember my thoughts at the time; praying for his soul, and considering what life this man might had lived. A verse from scripture came to my mind from the Book of Job:

“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” -Job 1:21

Soon the thoughts came upon me that I too will have to witness my grandparents passing, my parents, my significant other, possibly my brothers, my friends, and others whom I love. Unless the Lord planned to take me early in life. Regardless, such is the realities that all mortals must face. Death has always frightened me, not so much of it falling upon me, but of those I know and love. From that time onward, the thoughts of death, above all the fear of it, haunted me for a good while. After the patient’s death and postmortem care, I had a brief moment to write the poem as featured. For it was that moment which I will never forget in life, and writing down my thoughts in a poetic fashion helped solidify what God was teaching me.

Nowadays, I have found much peace and acceptance of death, though the fear of it will never be completely purged from thoughts. Until now, I have and will continue to spend some time reading, writing, and thinking about the nature of death. Such practice has brought much comfort into my heart, and with it I found much discipline to keep my heart and mind focused on my Lord, and to give praise for everyday He’s granted me thus far. I wish to list a few examples from various writings that encouraged me. As an obvious statement, such fears and thoughts of death is nothing new to mankind. Therefore, I hope these following passages will help settle the troubled hearts as they’ve done so for me. 

“For there is nothing dreadful in life for the man who has truly comprehended that there is nothing terrible in not living. Therefore, foolish is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will cause pain when it arrives but because anticipation of it is painful. What is no trouble when it arrives is an idle worry in anticipation. Death, therefore- the most dreadful of evils- is nothing to us, since while we exist, death is not present, and whenever death is present, we do not exist. It is nothing either to the living or the dead, since it does not exist for the living, and the dead no longer are.” -Epicurus 

“Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever; and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow.” -Augustine of Hippo

“For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.”  -Romans 14:8

“For if we reflect that this our tabernacle, unstable, defective, corruptible, fading, pining, and putrid, is dissolved, in order that it may forthwith be renewed in sure, perfect, incorruptible, in fine, in heavenly glory, will not faith compel us eagerly to desire what nature dreads? If we reflect that by death we are recalled from exile to inhabit our native country, a heavenly country, shall this give us no comfort? But everything longs for permanent existence. I admit this, and therefore contend that we ought to look to future immortality, where we may obtain that fixed condition which nowhere appears on the earth.” -John Calvin

Though I may not agree with Epicurus entirely, I do agree that while each individual is alive, they should not fear death. For it does not exist upon those who walk and breath, and to those who the kiss of death has touched are no longer present. As a Christian, I do look forward to the passing of my vessel, in light that I may enter my “native country, a heavenly country” as John Calvin beautifully stated. However, I do wish that I can spend more time in this world, for reasons which my earthly flesh craves for; to continue my quest for knowledge, to spend more time with family and friends, to witness more of creation, and the list goes on. Yet I know that such desires of life besides the glory of my Savior, is vanity. No matter how or when we die is not within our own hands. For who can know what may happen in the next hour, tomorrow, or the following years?

Therefore, I believe it is important to count every breath a blessing. To give thanks for what we have, and not make a virtue out of the unfairness and sorrows of this world. It should be humbling and encouraging to remember that we are not the first, nor the last, to deal with any form of cruelty and unfairness. Such as it is, there are those who have and will face stronger tides, yet they do not make a show of their misery and hardships. Above all, it would be wise to not dwell too much on death. Nor is it wise to ignore the reality of death, for we all must face it. From the 2005 film Kingdom of Heaven, the Hospitaller warrior monk played by David Thewlis, stated that, “All death is certain”. For no man, made of dust and water, will endure forever. No matter how great or little their achievements, how boldly they spoke or how long they sat in silence, nor the amount of good and evil committed. Death will remain. Whether we welcome it or not. 

 

“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” -Rabindranath Tagore 

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