“Then who can be saved?”
Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
I read An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge when I was in 9th grade. I still remember the shock – almost of the rope tightening around my neck – when I realized the whole story had Peyton Farquhar’s fantasy. What I didn’t understand then was that we as a society think like Farquhar, believing to the last moment that a miracle will save us, that death – in whatever form – will miraculously pass us by, leaving us unscathed.
Although I know that my heart could stop at any moment; that crossing Lancaster street a careening car could mangle my physical body and leave me to die a lingering death in a Worcester hospital; that a foreign disease could slowly sap away my strength and leave me gasping; that a frightened criminal’s bullet could find its way into my brain; that a thousand different means could cut my life short; although I know all these things, I don’t really know them. I have heard that to know something you must internalize it and believe it. I have not yet internalized that death comes for us all.
Why not? Possibly because the best way to learn something is to experience it, and I have never experienced death – not even secondhand, with grandparents (I come from alarmingly hardy, fertile stock). Yet secondhand is not the same thing, cannot teach the same things, and so not only I but everybody to some extent live in an amazing stasis of belief: We know death is there. We fear it. But we cannot know fully that it will happen to us, and so we are, in our minds immortal. We accuse reckless teens of believing in their own immortality, but why shouldn’t they? They haven’t experienced otherwise. I don’t take unnecessary risks; I regularly exercise and eat fairly healthy food (aside from a weakness for homemade cookies); but what does it mean to me to die? I cannot feel the knowledge of death, so for now it remains information, somewhat on par with the information that spending too much time in the sun causes skin cancer.
I think ultimately I’m saying that however much you know, whatever information you ingest, that only really gains truth value and meaning when you’ve had some experience to back it up.