Give me the strength to look Death in the eye and smile…

God, give me the strength to look Death in the eye and smile!


That’s my new prayer in the mornings nowadays. I am not a religious man, but I pray. And I really do not know if there is a God out there. A scientifically trained man, I do not think the sound waves emanating from the words uttered during my prayer are strong enough to breach the walls of the house, leave alone reaching out to society or the distant reaches of the galaxy; wherever this God lives or if there is a God at all. My education has trained me to believe in the existence of phenomenon that can be measured. Further my training as a doctor makes me certain of only those diagnoses where I can visualize them. Hence, the barrage of X-rays, CT-scans, MRIs, biopsies and surgeries where we cut open the patient to see the tumor and then proceed with the treatment.


So, how can I pray when I am not certain?


As a doctor who has practiced for over 20 years I have changed from the time I started. Youth gave me an air of cocksureness, today I am more and more unsure about many more things that I was back then. Age strips away the over-confidence of youth. Perhaps age strips away the arrogance of immortality that youth possesses.


Perhaps, then my prayer is nothing but “self-talk.” When I pray, I talk to myself; I ask myself to become stronger. The more I say it to myself; perhaps I feel it will have an impact. The words of my prayer may not penetrate the walls of my house but they do go through my ears to my brain. And perhaps in some strange way this prayer affects the way I view the world and my mortal life.


Why do you pray about death and dying? That is so morbid. Are you depressed? Are you sick? Is something wrong with your personal life? Are you in debt?


That is the immediate conclusion when I share this prayer with some people. They judge me.


Perhaps that is why people pray. God does not judge us when we pray.


In response to the judgmental people, all I can say is that I have a wonderful life.


I have a loving wife who shows her love for me every day with her mere presence. I have very caring children who are managing their lives pretty well. I enjoy spending time with them and I am sure they do too. I have a mother who is alive and always asks me if I am well. She prays for me. I have friends who tease me, harass me, and keep me laughing and grounded. I have colleagues that I sing and dance with at least three times a year and on a daily basis they ignore my eccentricities and continue to work with me to ensure I do well financially. I travel frequently, often to different countries. By societal standards also, I am doing quite well and personally I am quite happy.


So why do you pray about death? The judgmental people are puzzled.


I am puzzled too. I do not have the exact diagnosis of this problem.


Perhaps it happened after I turned to the late side of the forties. Is it something inherent within our bodies; something within our bodies’ biological clocks that tick differently after we cross the mid-forties; and that different type of ticking affects the brain and the mind — makes us more conscious of our impending mortality? After all the average life expectancy of the human world is around sixty years.


Or is that my profession of a nephrologist exposes me to death on a daily basis? I see the fear of death in the eyes of relatives and patients who have come to me with an important organ of their body either shut down or in the last stages of shutting down. Like the sputtering engine of an automobile that moves ahead in jumps and starts, they are afraid that this dead organ will soon make their entire body stop and their life will soon be taken away from them.


Is that why I pray about Death?


I do not know the answer. I know the answers to some questions my patients ask me; I used to have answers to my children’s questions when they were younger. But, when it comes to life and death I do not seem to know anymore. When will a terminal ill patient actually die? I cannot tell you that. Not anymore, now that I am no longer that young, overconfident, know-all version of myself.


Now, I have questions.


I want to know the answers.


And I find that a lot of people want answers. My patients and their relatives want answers. The boss in every office wants answers. School teachers always want answers. The media wants answers. The voters wants answers from their elected representatives. Even spouses want answers from each other.


Perhaps then it is this unfulfilled need for answers that makes us pray. We all want some sort of God – a God who has all the answers. A God who knows it all. So, we pray.


Of course, we got Google. The world loves Google. They get their answers at the click of a button. But, Google still falls short because it cannot give you personalized answers to your very personal questions. A student asks: Will I pass this exam? A lover asks: Will she fall in love with me? A married couple asks: Will this marriage last? Is this indeed my soulmate? A stock market broker asks: Will this trade make me a billionaire? A patient asks: Will I live or die?


We are all looking for answers; not for abstract philosophical questions but very personal ones, very immediate ones. We humans are very focused on the present and very obsessed with ourselves that way.


As I walked back home that night after finishing my work at the clinic, I thought about these questions, but mostly about why I pray using the words I use?


And my life flashed in front of my eyes.


When I was born I had a mother, who took me in her arms and put me by her side. While growing up I had a father who stood behind me in everything I did. When I learned to ride the bicycle, my elder brother held the saddle to keep me from falling. When in school, my teachers were right there for help. The crazy years of youth passed by in the company of friends. Then I got married and my wife stands next to me through thick and thin. If I get sick I may not even have to call an ambulance because my neighbors will drive me to the hospital. And I am quite sure my children will be there when I need them in old age and disability.


I realized that I have always faced life with someone by my side.


But what if I came face to face with Death on this lonely road at this dark hour? Will be able to face Death? After all there is no one here to stand next to me, not even a stray dog.


And that is when I got the answer to the question: why I pray the way I do?


I want God to be there by side when I encounter Death.


The troubles of life are faced with the people who love us; but to face Death – that is when we need a God.


If and when I come face to face with Death, wherever I am, I would want God to be by my side. And if God is busy elsewhere, and God definitely is, given all the prayers to be answered; I hope that hearing my own prayer every day has made strong enough to look Death in the eye and smile.


Maybe Death will look into my eyes, and find the happiness in my eyes to be contagious and smile back. Or maybe my smile like Mona Lisa’s will puzzle Death for a few seconds.


And that’s when I hope I am bold enough to hold Death by the hand and say: What are you waiting for? Come on; Let’s go.


They say I have led a good life. That’s not enough for me. Now I want to lead a great Death.


© Mukesh Shete, 2016

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