Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Are Short Lives Incomplete Lives?

"He left us too soon."

"She was robbed of life early."

"His story was cut short."

Almost every time, maybe every time, someone young dies some form of the above notions get tossed about.  Death is always hard for us mortals, as it should be.  Death's permanency is surely horrifying.  Yet, we seem to have formed some sort of unspoken gradient by which we feel we can measure the completeness of a person's life, and thereby we can also judge the level of tragedy that goes along with that death. 

If someone is a hundred, and they die, we don't even bat an eye.  We marvel at their age.  We say, "Well done."  Some might even say, "I hope I don't live that long."  Most of us nowadays see the eighties as expected.  Reach eighty and all bets are off.  We'll shed a tear for you, but you've gotten your due.  Sixties are when things start to hurt, where the questions start.  Someone dies in their sixties and we can't help but wonder why they didn't make eighty.  There is a sense of loss, of tragedy, but at least there is the notion that they lived somewhat.  Children were probably had, maybe grand kids.  Not a total loss.  If someone is thirty and dies, we are floored.  Twenties, we're gutted.  Teens and below, forget it.  Our minds don't even know how to handle it.  

When people die young, we feel they have been robbed.  So short was their life.  So little did they experience.  So much more was left for them to do and see and feel.  The loss is overwhelming to us.  It is not just for ourselves we mourn, but mostly for them.  We view their lives as tragedy.

Question is, "Is a short story an incomplete story?"

 Absolutely not.

Go read the story, "To Build a Fire," by Jack London.  It is a literary masterpiece.  You will be moved.  You will torn.  You'll feel elation.  You'll feel loss.  All of that, and the story is only fifteen pages long.  That's it.  

Compare that with a Harry Potter novel or one of the Lord of the Rings books.  Those are hundreds and hundreds of pages each.  Thousands of pages to complete the story of each series.  Yet here we have "To Build a Fire" at fifteen pages, and it is a masterpiece.  It does not need anything else to tell it's story.  As a matter of fact, more might even ruin the story.  It's brevity is part of it's power.  We've seen it again and again, particularly in movies, where a beloved short film is taken and extended, only to show us just how perfect the story was in it's short form.  Adding things simply ruined the story.

Now, let's read this:

All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
(Psalm 139:16)

Do you see what I see?  Our days are ordained.  For those who don't know what ordained means, it means numbered, given, set up.  Not only that, but they were so before we even were! With that in mind, there is no such thing as a life cut short.  No one has been robbed of life early.  There is an author, and he doesn't make mistakes.  Every life ends exactly when it should.  

This doesn't mean we don't hurt.  We do, but for us.  We hurt because we miss those who have gone before.  BUT, the beauty is that we are now free to see the beauty in those lives.  We need not feel they were robbed of life. There lives were masterpieces, written by the ultimate author.  Sometimes those stories leave us sad, much like "To Build a Fire," but they are still masterpieces.  They still move us.  They are still complete.  There are long lives that end sad too.   Long life is a good thing.  We know this.  But, let us no longer judge the lives  of those whom have lived briefly as lesser works.  It may feel like we are sticking up for them, like we are for them, but we disrespect their lives.  It would be like judging "To Build a Fire," not based upon its prowess as a literary work, but simply for its length. 

This way we get to revel in the beauty of a short life.  We get to take it in.  Yes, it leaves us wanting more.  All stories do.  Yet, we will be revering the beauty of the work, and respecting that life as we should.  That is the real way to honor those whose lives have ended in youth.