I was on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence this morning, talking with others about death. Specifically about the way insurance companies try to estimate how long you’ll last and factor in a lot of things about you in making their calculation. From there it was a short hop to “What effect would it have if you knew when you were going to die?”
Personally I’d be paralysed by fear – it would infect the time I had left in a way that would leave it curdled and sour. When I was a boarder in St Columb’s College in Derry in the 1950s, the Dean used to catch me regularly breaking some rule or other – playing handball in the wrong place, not polishing my shoes, talking after lights-out – and he would say: “Come and see me in my room at 8 o’clock tonight”. When I got there, he’d hammer my hands with his strap. But though the punishment wasn’t much fun, the knowing that it was coming was worse. The shadow spread by punishment darkened the day until it happened. Ditto with knowing when you were going to die.
Great saints had no such problem. St Francis of Assisi said, if told he would die in twenty-four hours’ time, he would go on hoeing his garden; Martin Luther said he would go on with the planned planting of his little apple-tree; John Wesley said he’d carry out his planned preaching and visit to his friends. They were religious men, secure in the knowledge they were doing God’s will.
I find it almost impossible to grasp such serenity. Just as I marvel at how the leaders of the Easter Rising acted, knowing they were going to die next day. Joseph Mary Plunkett married his sweetheart Grace Gifford seven hours before his execution – the chapel where they were married is the first stop on the tour of Kilmainham Jail. Padraic Pearse wrote the poem ‘The Mother’ the night before he was shot. Much is made of Pearse’s supposed ‘blood sacrifice’ fanaticism. It’s interesting that both he and Plunkett were thinking, not of themselves but of others, immediately before they were put to death.
Here’s the link to Pearse’s poem: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-mother-31/
Here’s the link to a Plunkett poem: http://poetry.elcore.net/CatholicPoets/Plunkett/Plunkett29.html
And here’s the link to a song sung by Anthony Kearns about Plunkett’s bride Grace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6Oi7CdBc78
Cásca gach duine sásta – Happy Easter, everyone.