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The Selfishness of Sorrow

A son is dead. What then?
A son is dead. Nothing more? Nothing.
But Zeus does not order these things rightly.
Why so? Because it is permitted you,
While you suffer them, to be happy.
—Epictetus

We seldom read the resolutions of a Christian society upon the death of a member without finding such phrases as these: "We mourn the loss," "we bow our heads," "we sorrow," "we grieve."

Yet Christians profess to believe that "to die is gain." They talk of "the glory of the immortal." They speak often of life as "a wilderness," and sing of "pilgrims through this barren land."

Why, then, should they mourn when a beloved one has "gone home "to all the celestial glories which they picture in what they call "the other life"?

Is the explanation found in skepticism or selfishness? Do they really doubt the happiness of the heaven they have promised as a reward to the Christian believer, or are they so selfish as to forget the joys of the departed one in the temporary loneliness that has come to themselves?

When our friends sail for a sojourn in foreign lands, where we expect to join them after a brief separation, we do not break our hearts over the event. We dwell upon their great advantages of study, the delights of travel, the gladness of the new experience that lies before the voyager, and the joy of the reunion later. It does not occur to us to put on garments of woe, to darken our homes, to seclude ourselves from our friends, abandoning all our usual occupations, or engaging in them with sad thoughts and faces. That would appear to us absurd, and our civilized customs do not require it.

When our loved one passes through the portal of death, if we really believe that he has stepped forward and upward, if we really think he has gone into a larger, brighter life than that of earth, and entered upon a career of more active usefulness and increased happiness, we surely cannot sorrow for him as those who have no hope.

What, then, is the root of the grief we are so ready to manifest in the presence of death? Is it not found altogether in self pity? and what is that but the disease of selfishness?

Are we willing to accept the alternative and admit that we do not quite believe in immortality or think that there is any gain in dying,—notwithstanding our professions,—and thus stand confessed as hypocrites?

Perhaps we answer that we are persuaded of the gain to the departed one, but that the event to us is one of loss, irreparable loss.

Have we, then, so small an ideal God as seriously to believe that the good of any human being must be purchased by the sacrifice of another?

Surely such a definition would justify the atheist.

Or will we honestly admit that death can be no evil, if it brings the recognition of a larger life to both? and will we renew our assurance that all things work together for good, whether or not we can solve on the instant every problem in spiritual arithmetic?

If we have reached this point, and freely accepted this proposition as a principle of life, we shall go on our way rejoicing because of our great love, and know that death can bring no loss to us or to our friend.

"Love can never lose its own." In the kingdom of good there are no mourners. The seen and the unseen are alike within that kingdom.

If every star and planet is held true to its orbit, can there be danger that any human life will miss its course? Can death be premature if life is governed by absolute law?

Are we quite sure of the right rendering of that passage in the burial service, "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality"?

We have no good reason to think that death in itself brings us anything more than life,—of which it is an incident; but we find that in the change, which is altogether chemical, we put off the old mortality and the material corruption.

Let us, then, be glad of the new day, when it dawns upon us or upon our best beloved, and wish with Tennyson that there "may be no moaning of the bar," when we "put out to sea."

And let us do away with graves,—in memory and in reality. We need not dwell upon the shady side of Sorrow Lane.

We are not dependent for the sunlight on the other planets in our system; nor on the interplanetary spaces.

It radiates from the grand central orb itself,— the sun of the entire system.

We are not dependent for our cheer and happiness on our surroundings; nor on any individual outside ourselves.

Each has within himself a complete planetary system, of which his own spiritual will is the vitalizing center.

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Charles B. Newcomb

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