Archives For rebirth

I Have Bad Breath, And You Don’t Smell So Good Yourself: A Post About Death

Have you noticed how sensitive to smells we are? How bad breath, for instance, is just so unignorable? Why is that? Or how about farts? Themselves, they are are a natural byproduct of both the digestive process, and the air we swallow while eating (or sleeping). Now digestion is an interesting thing: it is the breakdown of the food we eat into its nutritive components. Our bodies require fuel–air, water, food–to carry out the essential metabolic processes which keep them alive. Mechanical digestion begins in the mouth, where mastication (chewing) takes place. Salivary amylase begins the breakdown of starches. Protein digestion begins in the stomach with the release of gastric juices (nutrients are absorbed in our small intestines). Essentially, digestion is a form of decay. Foods are broken down into their component parts, which our bodies then absorb to build our cells.

The natural byproducts (besides both urine and feces) of digestion are often the gas of both burps (air and/or other gases we swallow), and farts. Not to mention halitosis (bad breath), which can be caused by the foods we eat and/or the presence of bacteria in our mouths. All of this is perfectly natural. Yet from a young age, we are often very uncomfortable with, or deeply offended by, these perfectly natural things.

Why is this?

I contend that on an instinctual level it reminds of something; namely, that we are dying. Our bodies, whether through bad breath, burps, farts, the smell of sweaty arm pits, defecation, etc., are constantly reminding us of our impending demise. Else why do these oh-so-natural processes often spark such revulsion and/or discomfiture in us? We don’t shower so much to clean up as to (for a time) wash off the offensive stench of decay which clings so readily to our bodies. We begin dying before we are even born. The byproducts of fetal digestion and cell devision are stored in our colons as meconium (the first poop). This process never stops until we breathe our last. And the bacteria which inhabit our guts, kept in check by living metabolic processes, have a field day after we expire.

This is entropy. Things wind down. “Things fall apart,” as Yeats said. “The center cannot hold.”

We were not originally made this way. Our forebears were not made to die, but chose death anyway. This is, as the Scripture declares, the legacy of the first Adam. Sin entered the world, and through sin, death. This is why, deep, deep down in our inmost beings these reminders of death offend us so:

Because we know were made for more; indeed were once more. We know that our bodies, essential as they are to life as we know it, are not our true selves. Our true selves are soul and spirit–that deep place within us where we commune with God. And someday–sooner or later–this inmost self shall return to God from whence it came.

“Death, thou shalt die.” In the meantime, pass the Beano.

Beating our fists bloody at inexorable air, trying to defy the passage of time, we find–at the end of the line–our bodies, our hearts, our minds

Fail

As we decline into that good night.

Our rage a peripatetic fit, the fight unwinnable…

Until:

The inexorable slide is swallowed up in the tide of the grace of an ineffable God.

Our bodies made new, our minds renewed:

Free at last from sin’s crimson stains, the mortal takes on immortality

Only joy remains

Only joy.

It has been said that age is but a number. That we are only as old as we feel. “As a man thinketh,” etc.

There is a certain truth to this. And having a positive outlook certainly has benefits. In this sense, age is just a number.

But aging is cold, hard fact. I first became cognizant of this in my late twenties: a few of the whiskers in my beard took the inexorable spin on the color wheel to gray.

But I didn’t feel any older. (The gray has since spread like a disease, slowly making its way from the center of my chin up the sides of my face).

A little later, the early thirties, my metabolism showed signs of decline: I could no longer eat what I wanted without consequence.

And then one morning I awoke to find that, while they never had before, consuming too many sweets precipitated nausea. It was around this same time I discovered that any amusement park rides which involved spinning introduced a rather greenish cast in my otherwise lily white skin.

The late thirties brought with them: bladder problems, sleep apnea, and hypothyroidism. All treatable, but all nevertheless leaving me (subjectively) feeling much older than I ever had.

The last several years have been a time of transition, evolution, and entropy:

I’m objectively, quantifibly becoming something: older.

My body is evolving (or devolving) as time goes on (evolution=change over time).

And I’m slowing down. Entropy–the second law of thermodynamics. “Things wear out, the center cannot hold…”

Just at the time when things are heating up professionally, and personally, my get up and go has got up and went. I have ideas, but no stamina to execute on them. Such cruel irony.

My son recently asked if I wanted to live forever. My reply? In this body? God, I hope not. I want an upgrade! I want one that doesn’t get weary, one that doesn’t have sleep apnea, one that doesn’t have upper eyelids that are puffy and drooping.

I want an upgrade.

Thankfully, one is coming. It’s only requirement is that I die. That’s the deal: birth requires some kind of death. Sperm cells and ovum, once united, are no longer what they were–have in fact died to their old natures to bring forth be life. So it is with the Christian: “though the outer man is perishing, the inner man is being renewed day by day.”

So in the meantime, between now and when God calls me home, I will practice the only death afforded me:

Death to self. Pressing on in spite of life’s hardship and frailties. Trusting that what He says is true. And I’d like to think that, because I need it so much more, I understand grace just a little bit better. His grace suffices, and I fall upon it everyday. I fall, and He makes me to stand.

I can–because He did, and does.

I’m not too old, too busy, or too tired to dream. Sure, I’m older, and my body is (as is yours) marching towards decay, I’m not dead yet.

And neither are you.

Let’s choose to die daily to the desire to give up, to throw in the towel.

A story is written one word at a time–line upon line. Likewise, a painting is made one brush stroke at a time. Weight is lost one pound at a time, walking happens one step at a time…

Dreams are achieved when all the small steps we take are added together into a new whole. We can do hard things.

So take the next step, my friends. There is always grace sufficient for that. We can do it.