Thriving is more than surviving

Religion column



I’m suffering through the third day of a miserable head cold with the consequent aches, stuffy head, puffy eyes and runny nose. I catch this stuff rarely, but when I do I am convinced I may not survive.

This is not a time to ponder life’s larger issues. Will I stay happily married? Do my kids still love me? Can I ever preach another sermon with vigor and hope?

When one’s own life dangles from a thread over Jonathan Edwards’ fiery pit, it’s probably best not to read that other people died. But the obituaries are part of my daily reading; I suppose it’s healthy in the same way that eating Brussels sprouts is good for you.

The obituaries are not the first thing I read, of course. That would be macabre. I always begin the newspaper with the most important section of the paper — the sports page. But sooner or later, I find my way to that dreary section of the paper with the death notices. I read them both in the local paper and in the New York Times. One would not be surprised to know that very different kinds of people are reported having died in these two journals. Even so, all are dead.

This morning, reading the obituaries in my near-death condition, I noticed for the first time that in every obituary the family members who remain alive are identified as “survivors.” Somehow I’d never taken notice of that before.

Survivors? Survivors of what? When there’s an earthquake, a tsunami or a car wreck on the interstate, we distinguish the living from the dead by calling the first group survivors. They cheated death. They walked away.

But is this really how people see themselves when a family member dies? Nobody has ever confided in my, “Whew! I survived that one!”

What has so captivated us about the victim who died in the Florida sinkhole was how completely unfair it somehow seemed. One second you’re in your bedroom and the next you’re swallowed up and buried in a huge limestone casket, the body never recovered. Did this man’s family survive? Somehow it seems a rather callous way to sort people out.

At any rate, when I read the obituaries this morning and began pondering why we call those still alive and well “survivors,” I had two thoughts. First, I want to be far more than a “survivor,” a term which only implies that I dodged a bullet. I want to be somebody who is thriving, and I know that even with a stuffy head and cold fingers.

But then my achy body took over and I wondered if the obituary notices, for the sake of accuracy in reporting, shouldn’t add the adjective “temporary” before the noun “survivors.” Except in the case of the return of Christ to Earth, we are all temporary when it comes to this matter of life.

Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.