IMAGINING THE DEAD (John 6:37-40): 02 November 2008 (Commemoration of All Souls)
I wasn’t particularly crazy about the “Titanic,” that 1997 movie directed by James Cameron, which, by the way, not only broke box office records but also won the Oscar for Best Picture that year. But years after seeing it, I still remember its final scene.
The elderly Rose (played by Kate Winslet), who has just finished telling her story about Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the ill-fated maiden voyage of the ship, takes the “Heart of the Ocean,” a necklace with a much sought-after blue diamond, and quietly tosses it into the ocean. That night she dies in her sleep, and the camera pans to the frames of photographs beside her bed, symbolizing all the memories she has accumulated in her life, and dissolves into the wreckage of the Titanic and its interiors, now miraculously restored. Rose, now also restored to her youth and beauty, is welcomed by all the passengers of the ship, their faces beaming, as she ascends the Grand Staircase towards a youthful Jack, who has been waiting for her. As they are reunited, all those who have perished in the tragedy applaud in joy.
This moving scene could very well be a metaphor for what awaits us beyond this life. The words of our Lord in today’s gospel take on new meaning:
“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,
and I will not reject anyone who comes to me…”
It’s a beautiful promise that gives us hope–especially for those of us who have been heartbroken by the passing of people we love. The Lord will reunite us to one another in that special place, where, as the lovely words of the liturgy put it, “every tear shall be wiped away.” It is truly something to look forward to.
But there is more. Not only will we be reunited with one another, but also, just as in that final scene of the “Titanic,” we shall all be restored and, as promised by the Lord, “made new.” The poet Rainer Maria Rilke has written a poem that I think captures this truth. While he compares life in this world to a swan awkwardly waddling on the ground, he thinks dying is like the swan–finally–reaching the lake, and at first nervously, but finally–realizing it is home–confidently eases itself onto the waters. And suddenly what was once an awkward bird is transformed into its loveliest self, an image of grace and beauty.
In the same way, death for us is reaching our home, Christ, and as we are united with him, his love transforms us into our best self: our loveliest, most lovable, and most loving self! This means that those who have gone ahead of us, who even now are awaiting our reunion with them, have already been transformed by the Lord into their loveliest, most lovable, and most loving selves!
So as we remember the people whom we love and who have passed on to the next life, we also need to exercise our imagination. Let us not just remember them by gathering our memories of them. We need to do more: We have to choose our bestmemories of them–the best moments in their lives and our best experiences of them, when they were at their most lovable and loving selves–and transform those memories by imagining them to be even infinitely better than their very best selves when they were alive.
For that is how they are today, and how all of us shall be, when we are united completely with the Lord, and when the love of Christ transforms us completely into our best selves.
Here is a Quick Question for you: “Is there anyone special that you are remembering–and praying for–today? What do you consider your best memories of this person, when he or she was truly loveliest, most lovable and loving?” Think about it, and if you feel up to it, you may want to share a thought, a feeling, or a question. Who knows? Your sharing might help another reader.
Note: Below is the complete text of Rilke’s “The Swan,” as well as the final scene of James Cameron’s “The Titanic.”
THE SWAN Rainer Maria Rilke This laboring through what is still undone, as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way, is like the awkward walking of the swan. And dying-to let go, no longer feel the solid ground we stand on every day- is like anxious letting himself fall into waters, which receive him gently and which, as though with reverence and joy, draw back past him in streams on either side; while, infinitely silent and aware, in his full majesty and ever more indifferent, he condescends to glide. Translated by Stephen Mitchell