Certainly you’ve heard this inescapable truth before: “No one knows when their end will come.”
Some die young, even as babies, children or youth. Some live to be older, some aged, living 100 years or more. But each of us, at some point in our lives, faces our own mortality. Philosophers and psychologists call this truth the central fact of our physical existence—that one day, it will end.
That realization may come suddenly from a visit to a doctor, from imminent danger, or gradually as we see our parents, friends and others pass away. In the latter case our sense of loss and mourning may be extreme, as grief overwhelms us. At such times we may ask ourselves, “Did they know I loved them?” or “What could I have done to show my love?”
I have a big family, and many have died at varying ages, even a nephew only days old. All I could do was offer my sympathy and condolences, and any help I might provide the parents to ease their pain. When my own father died of a massive heart attack at age 50, I flew across the country to make all the arrangements and represent the few of those back home who still knew him, including my mother and his own mother. My feelings were mixed; I had only lived with him for a few years as a teenager, since he and my mother divorced when I was four years old. But if you’ve ever had to bury a parent, you know how I grieved. At his funeral service I said a Baha’i prayer for the departed, the only words spoken on his behalf. I felt alone, yet I knew I must carry it through.
My father was a veteran, and when I was handed the tri-folded American flag I cried. The words “On behalf of a grateful nation” rang in my soul. No one knows their end, and few realize their legacy on this Earth, or where they will reside on the next plane of our spiritual existence. Baha’u’llah wrote:
Know thou that every hearing ear, if kept pure and undefiled, must, at all times and from every direction, hearken to the voice that uttereth these holy words: “Verily, we are God’s, and to Him shall we return.” The mysteries of man’s physical death and of his return have not been divulged, and still remain unread. By the righteousness of God! Were they to be revealed, they would evoke such fear and sorrow that some would perish, while others would be so filled with gladness as to wish for death, and beseech, with unceasing longing, the one true God—exalted be His glory—to hasten their end.
Death proffereth unto every confident believer the cup that is life indeed. It bestoweth joy, and is the bearer of gladness. It conferreth the gift of everlasting life.
As to those that have tasted of the fruit of man’s earthly existence, which is the recognition of the one true God, exalted be His glory, their life hereafter is such as We are unable to describe. The knowledge thereof is with God, alone, the Lord of all worlds. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 345-346.
Most of us understand that how one has lived their life determines their abode in the next. Millions believe a life of sin will lead to the dark pits of hell, fire and damnation, described vividly by Dante. Millions do not believe in such an end, regardless of their acts. Other millions believe that a chaste and holy life will lead them to the paradise of heaven, such as that described by Muhammad for the true believer.
Whichever you believe, one thing is true: our legacy will be judged in the next world by our words and acts in this one. If you believe all human beings have a soul, then you probably believe in judgment day upon our death, when our souls will be called before God:
O Son of Being! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 11.
There it is again: “unheralded.” None of us knows when our time will come. That thought has changed untold behaviors from bad to good in an instant. Although I’ll admit that I am not always conscious of my actions and often make mistakes and errors of judgment, yet for the most part thanks to the teachings of the Baha’i Faith, my life, my marriage, the things I do, my relationships, are on an even keel and positive.
But no one knows their end, and we don’t know what we will accomplish or how we will change during our last days, months or years in this world. So don’t give up—others can learn from our life lessons, see our fortitude and know we are still trying. We can’t give up, not on ourselves, not on God, not on doctors or loved ones, not on anyone—especially not on ourselves.
I hope you find the part you were destined to play, and recognize your own inner strength and vision, and I hope you’re ready for “the cup that is life indeed.”