Grim Reaper

by Danny S. Venida


Summary execution, extrajudicial killing,  murder, drug trafficking, rape, unimaginable heinous crimes: they are stuff for the grim reaper, death’s longstanding symbol with a black cape and hood, a bony grin, and a scythe to reap souls. He should be one happy chap with the restoration of the death penalty now a priority in the 17th Congress.

The Grim Reaper was conceived from ancient human history. In the reality of uncomprehending death, we define a symbol we can visualize for what it can be: terrifying, haunting, macabre. But we can learn from the profound wisdom of a 5-year-old, Julianna Yuri Snow, and understand what death truly is. Julianna died last June 14, felled by an incurable neurodegenerative illness called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. It prevented her from walking, eating, or even breathing on her own. She had a series of medical interventions in hospitals. After one very difficult visit, in a conversation with her mother, neurologist Dr. Michelle Moon, she intimated that she preferred to go to heaven rather than back to the hospital if she became very sick again. She told her mom “not to worry, God will take care of me. He is in my heart.” More than a year passed, and she was gone.

God is in the heart of every human being. But unlike Julianna, many are not aware, or simply refuse to be conscious of it. In that unawareness, we lose track of who we are. Instead, we seek to define ourselves on our terms away from this Truth. Power, popularity, pleasure and pera, the original 4Ps, become the basis of defining ourselves. The world is in chaos today because of this identity crisis.

The massacre in Orlando, Florida, with 49 people and the assailant dead and 53 injured, is one more testimony of the dominant intolerance and extremism compounded by the failure of institutions responsible for guiding society to be humane and just. Accepting each one as one was had been extremely difficult. Mutual respect was sorely lacking even if the LGBT orientation, repressed over many generations, is a reality from ancient human history. Many from these groups have contributed as much to arts and culture as to the sciences and many other things, making the human reality beautiful. Yet, humanity at large has rejected them for who they are. And the mentally ill, too, have been generally considered outcasts. Where understanding and acceptance are called for, denial and intolerance have been the response. The so-called “mainstream” is a largely insecure lot.

Leaders of nations and religious institutions have essentially not been providing what it will take to transform global society. Instead, they reinforce the culture of death. There are exceptions, no doubt, like in our contemporary history, in our milieu, Pope Francis is one example. No critical mass seems to be evolving, enough to make global society truly at peace. Wars and more wars are the thrusts of many people in the world. They rally behind the Grim Reaper. The culture of death and impunity rules.

The Grim Reaper is a myth which, when viewed from the standpoint of transcendent life, can be a friend. When Julianna Snow said God was in her heart and would take care of her when she died, she was aware that the Grim Reaper could not take her life. But the end of her five-year life does not deny her life forever. Her eternity began when God dwelt in her spirit at conception, which her incurable illness did not end.

I have been diagnosed with cervical spine stenosis in the C1-C2 area, which most likely developed slowly over the last three years. The passage for my spinal cord is narrowed to just about 20 percent of what it should be. I am fortunate to be mobile, though the discomfort from numbness and muscle ache can be very disruptive. The prognosis, beyond the fifth opinion, is surgery. I am an accident waiting to happen, for paralysis from the neck down, or even instant death. One bad whiplash, even in my sleep, can do me in.

My own stenosis made me realize that I owe former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a heartfelt apology for even thinking that she is not in a life-and-death situation. And then I thought that former senator Juan Ponce Enrile and many detainees over, say, 80 years old, deserve society’s compassion and must be allowed and provided humane living conditions. The Grim Reaper is saying hello to us. I am saying hello to him, too.

But just as life is a gift granted by our Creator without our consent, the moment of death is rightfully in His exclusive domain, as He is life’s only source. Otherwise, our deaths will exclude Him, and we can essentially break away from life by choice. The beauty of life is union with the Creator—God in our hearts.

When governments rationalize death, through war or the death penalty or any other form of violence against human dignity and life, they contradict the Truth of Life and reinforce the chaos in global human society. It is always time for fundamental value transformation to take place. There have been many leaders throughout history who pursued death, with their constituents cheering them on in their killing spree. Shining moments in humanity have been expressed through individual and collective resistance to this kind of leadership.

Filipinos are in practically every nook and cranny of the globe. They can be, as Pope Francis challenged us during his pastoral visit in January 2015, messengers of the good news of God: life forever for all. It is imperative that we realize and recognize that the powerful response to the deaths that drugs, wars, crime and corruption are causing is not more deaths but a proactive sharing of life. We will all face our death, but do not worry: God is in our hearts.

This article was published in Philippine Daily Inquirer on July 22, 2016.

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