When a man smuggled a pistol into a local hospital last week, then shot his wife and himself, the alarm went off. Since then, alarms have been sounding in the community.
Is it time to install metal detectors at hospitals?
Is it time to resurrect the "quality of life" debate once again?
But amid the concerns, one notion that has generally gone unexamined is just how ill-prepared most people seem to be when death summons them.
In Asian and Latin American cultures, death is viewed as the other half of life — the flip side of the same coin. People don't flee the notion of death — they seldom tuck and sculpt their skin as if to fool the grim reaper, they don't try to behave like teenagers when they are old. They know death not only comes for the archbishop (to borrow from Willa Cather), but it comes for everyone.
In America, living wills are popular. That is a plus. The more decisions one can make while alive means fewer decisions for loved ones when one is gone. Many people buy their headstones in advance. A good many have their funerals plotted out, down to who will pray at the plot. These are positive steps.
But preparing for death does not mean being at peace with the idea. Discussing one's own death often seems in bad taste. And talking to one's children openly and honestly about death is usually put off — like talks about sex — until parents feel cornered.
"Some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live," wrote Henry van Dyke. And Francis Quarles claimed "Death has no advantage, except when he comes as a stranger."
As Americans, we often weigh the positive that immigrants bring into the country against the negative. On that set of scales, perhaps new faces from Japan, China, Vietnam, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Cuba can bring a little sanity to the country's almost insane obsession with youthfulness and its terrified posture before the grave.
Making ready for one's demise legally and socially is a prudent thing.
Making ready for it in one's own soul, however, shows true wisdom.