Yeah. Like that.
When all of the DEATH! DEATH! lyrics come up, we do tend to joke about it . . . “Ohh, another gloomy one!”
I love it.
If you know me, you know that I think about death all the time. I’m with folks at or near their last breath. I help wash the dead and close their eyes. I sit with the dying and listen to their rattling breath. Most modern Americans . . . don’t. Don’t think about it, don’t touch it, don’t go near it. Once in nursing school, of all places you’d think people might think about death, I muttered to the person sitting next to me, “Makes you think about your own mortality, doesn’t it?” she gave a sort of blank stare, and said, “No, not really . . . my parents’ mortality, maybe.” Really? Really. So outside of work, singing Sacred Harp is the only time I get to process death with a community.
Today I was singing these old hymns, and I suddenly thought , “Hey. My constant thoughts about death aren’t weird. They were normal two hundred years ago. Everyone then had the same desperate need to process death that I feel now. Hence all these hymns! It’s just that we’re so insulated from death that we think contemplating it is morbid, think we don’t need to contemplate it at all.”
What else did we lose when we lost the constant awareness of death?