We Are All Stories…

When death occurs to a loved one, it leaves us devastated and reeling. It forces us to comfort our views on mortality, vulnerability, and our purpose in life. While reflecting on those subjects before death snatches away someone we care about won’t lessen the pain, it can enable us to hold on and keep moving forward, when everything within us wants to give up. Crafting our theology of death (or for those who identify as agnostic/atheist, philosophy of death) might provide us with some much needed strength to go forward. And stories, whether modern day sci-fi/fantasy stories like Doctor Who, or ancient texts such as the Bible can aid us in crafting a theology/philosophy on death.

1)  We are all stories in the end. In the episode, “The Big Bang,” the Doctor has a heartfelt talk with a sleeping, young Amelia Pond, just before he is (supposedly) erased from history. He tells her, “I’ll be a story in your head. But that’s ok. We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”

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At one point we, along with our loved ones will be reduced to memories, and stories that may or may not be passed down to further generations. Regardless of what will happen when we die and irrespective of whether or not there is an afterlife, we need to remember that we will one day be nothing more than memories and stories. As a result, we need to act accordingly. Ask yourself, “What type of story will I be leaving behind?” Will you be remembered as someone who lived so recklessly and selfishly that you hurt your loved ones? Will you become a cautionary tale and serve as a warning on how not to live one’s life? Will your story be a tragic one, where you were hit by so many trials and tribulations that you eventually gave up? Or will your story be the tale of a survivor, who managed to conquer whatever life through at you? Will your tale be one of adventures, and love? Or it will be a sad tale of missed opportunities, and half realized potential?

The Biblical text deals with death in a variety of ways. Of course you have some books which speak about an afterlife and the hope one has in the afterlife. Nevertheless, some stories do emphasis the finality of death.  Death will come to us all and cannot be avoided. The Book of Ecclesiastes is not a ‘God will conquer everything, death will have no hold over us,’ type of book. In fact, death and the meaninglessness of life is a central concern of the text. While  some find the book’s message of, “this is all there is” and frequent proclamations that everything we do is ultimately meaningless depressing, the text serves as a reminder of how short our lives are. At various points the author states that we should try to find what joy we can in the food we eat, our work, and our loved ones while we still can.

‘Go eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. Le your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” (Ecc. 9:7-10)

While many of us know this, and it has become essentially cliché to say that we need to make the most out of life, the reality is that we do not know for sure what happens after we die, and this life, here and now might be the only one we have.

2) We will have to eventually stop running. The Doctor is known for running away, especially when the time comes for goodbyes. Yet he also knows that death will eventually come, him more so than any other character on the show, in his 900+ time span he has caused and/or witnessed an enormous amount of death and destruction. In Doctor Who Magazine 460, in the comic strip (which I know is not considered canonical by a good number of Who Fans, but is still interesting…) the eleventh doctor is quoted as saying, “I don’t do anything by halves. The battles turned into wars, the wars turned into Armageddons. Worlds burned in my wake. I became a dark legend. A name to frighten monsters and children alive. And I just stepped over all the bodies and kept walking…never looking back. I tried to be a better man…but I’d just become a better killer.”

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Death is something the Doctor, can’t escape. And neither can we. In “The Lazarus Experiment,” a scientist tries to reverse the hand of time and avoid death. Of course, things do not go as planned. The machine Lazarus uses to try and cheat death, irrevocably changes his DNA, turning him into a monster. Already ruthless in his attempts to gain immortality, he begins to kill others in an attempt to stay alive. The 10th Doctor reminds him, “Facing death is part of being human, you can’t change that.” Furthermore, the Doctor poignantly tells him about the consequences of living too long, “I’m old enough to know that a longer life isn’t always a better one. In the end you just get tired. Tired of the struggle. Tired of losing everyone that matters to you. Tired of watching everything turn to dust. If you live long enough, the only certainly left is that you’ll end up alone.”

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Death is something we will all have to face. But how will we face it? For some, death will come so quickly that we won’t have a chance to respond. For others, death will come with old age. How will we respond? Will we attempt to cheat death, like Lazarus tried to do? Will we pretend it will never strike us? Will we keep thinking that we can outrun death? Eventually, our luck will run out.

Death will eventually come to all of us. Ecclesiastes 8;8 states: No one has power over the wind, to restrain the wind, or power over the day of death…”

The author says in 3: 19-20, “for the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust and all turn to dust again.

River Song pointed out in her debut episodes that, “When you run with the Doctor, it feels like it’ll never end. But however hard you try, you can’t run forever…” How many of us are still running?

3)   Don’t let the thought of death paralyze you. Knowing that death will come to each and everyone we love, and to ourselves can make us fearful. We might be afraid to take chances and truly get to know other people. Why should we, if death is just going to take them away from us. The Doctor learned that and there were moments when he felt that the burden of losing those he cared about was too great, that he decided to travel alone. In “The Snowmen,” the Doctor initially refuses to get involved in the happenings going on around him.  When Strax inquires about the alien presence in the snow and states they should do something, the Doctor shouts: “It is not our problem. Over a thousand years of saving the universe, Strax, you know the one thing I learned? The universe doesn’t care.” Later on Vastra tells Clara:

VASTRA: No. The Doctor doesn’t help people. Not anyone, not ever. He stands above this world and doesn’t interfere in the affairs of its inhabitants. He is not your salvation, nor your protector. Do you understand what I am saying to you?

CLARA: Words.

VASTRA: He was different once, a long time ago. Kind, yes. A hero, even. A saver of worlds. But he suffered losses which hurt him. Now he prefers isolation to the possibility of pain’s return.

Death and the fear of losing those we care about can prevent us from truly living and it can destroy us, it nearly did the Doctor. How about us? How will we let loss affect us?

“When you run with the Doctor, it feels like it’ll never end. But however hard you try you can’t run forever. Everybody knows that everybody dies and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark if he ever for one moment, accepts it.”

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I think that is what makes the story of Jesus resurrection so powerful. Regardless of whether one views it as a factual, historical account or as a beautiful myth. The story tells us that death and loss do not have the last word. How we live our life, how we advocate for those who are suffering, how we help those who are in pain, will live on pasts our deaths. Some argue that if Jesus’ resurrection is not literal, then everything-including his life was worthless and without purpose. I disagree.  Stories are what will be left of us after we are gone.  The stories told by those who knew us, will be the only lasting impact most of us will leave. What will be your story? And for those who have passed on, what story and legacy did they leave behind? What memories do you hold onto?

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One thought on “We Are All Stories…

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