Watching a military battle scene re-enactment recently, I pondered what it is that allows soldiers to knowingly run into the direct fire of the enemy, fully aware that they will almost certainly be killed? Closer to home, what moves a firefighter or a parent to run into a burning house to save a child? What accounts for such profound acts of self-sacrifice?
One possibility is that a divine drama plays through us. We are at times moved by a force that is greater than us. Maybe we are just characters in a play, as Shakespeare suggested, but we believe we write our own lines when in fact they were written for us by the Great Storyteller. We play our role even when that role would seem to be the end of us. We may do this in the face of incredible pain or even our total obliteration. Is the story somehow encoded within us, stamped upon our soul? How else shall we account for our obedience to it in the face of certain death?
Perhaps there is something about the story that is so compelling that we agree to become its servants? Do we voluntarily exit a play that we don’t realize is a play? Would we agree to a role that will bring an end to our role? Why are we us structured this way? Why do we fall in line with a drama that promises to claim our very life, or what we think is our life?
Maybe it is only something greater than ourselves that can marshal within us the willingness to die for it. In the days before electricity, when nighttime illumination required candles, people of limited means who wanted to finish a game of chess or cards would have to ask themselves “if the game is worth the candle?” And so, in this situation, I also ask: is the game worth the candle even when that candle appears to be your own life?
Do we know at some level that our own physical death is not, in fact, the death of us, that whatever it is that moves us to such heroic acts is an inner sense of something eternal within us? Do we continue to live through the values we die for? Do we live through them and they through us? In fact, could it be the case that we never really live unless we live in service of the right values? Perhaps we never really live unless we live for that which is greater than ourselves; that is, greater than our temporary, physical selves.
It is one thing for a character to exit a play through death, but it is quite another to voluntarily “give up the ghost” in our life when, frankly, we still want to live. For if our life is just a play, it is one that seems to work best if we think that it is not a play and that everything depends on staying alive. Or, at least, that living is important and that remaining a viable, relevant and involved character is crucial.
But this perspective does not always hold true. In the Garden of Gethsemane Christ prayed to God, “let this cup [of the crucifixion] pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). He prayed that his life would not have to be sacrificed. But eventually he knew that it must. When he returned to his disciples Jesus knew the role he must play in the ending of the story of his physical life on earth. We can assume that he recognized—or perhaps just trusted in—its necessity for the spiritual evolution of humanity. Perhaps he went along with the Great Storyteller’s story because he knew it was a good story, a necessary story, a story and a message worthy of his life.
Copyright © Andy Drymalski, Ed.D.
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