I’ve lost count of the number of “death” calls, text messages, emails, and conversations I’ve had over the last few months. Our unfortunate reality is that we have all suffered too much loss since March 2020, and we are in a constant state of grief and coping. On top of our collective sorrow, the losses are personal. Therefore, it is crucial that we not use the reasoning that “everyone is going through something” to downplay individual pain.
We must also be careful to not allow the steady repetition of this “news” to desensitize us to the significance of every single loss. Rather, we should tune in and allow ourselves the space and time to give into the sadness and accompanying feelings.
We ended my British Literature class yesterday with 16th/17th century poet John Donne’s “Sonnet X,” perhaps better known as “Death, Be Not Proud.” This is one of my favorites because Donne, in spite of his discomfort with and fear of death, pulled out of himself a direct address to death. He called it out for the powerless perpetrator it is and reminded it that–because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection– paradoxically, death’s own end is imminent.
I’m looking forward with hope to that moment when we will grieve no more.
Death, be not proud, though some have called theeMighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrowDie not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,And soonest our best men with thee do go,Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,And poppy or charms can make us sleep as wellAnd better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?One short sleep past, we wake eternallyAnd death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.–John Donne, “Holy Sonnet X” or “Death, Be Not Proud”