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Every once in a while, I have a strange thought. (OK, it's more than "once in a while.") I consider all the people I know and have known, those that are in my current circle of interaction and those who -- for whatever reason -- no longer are, and I think about all the funerals I am likely to attend sometime in the future. There are a lot of them.
Sure, it's a bit macabre; maybe it's just this time of year. But an awareness of my own eventual death puts things in perspective. And the final farewells I must someday invariably give to others remind me that I am on my way to another destination -- and so are they.
We live in a culture that puts an awful lot of emphasis on taking care of our bodies. There's a whole multi-billion dollar industry based on balancing our electrolytes with sports drinks, boosting our energy with individually wrapped carb bars, lifting bright-colored weights, buying gym memberships so we can substitute working out for the physical labor our great-grandparents were used to, and making fully informed choices about what we eat. We expect yearly physicals, regular lab tests, mammograms, colonoscopies, traditional and holistic treatments, and a rainbow of prescription medications. And if we can't "solve" the issues we have, we pay for cosmetic procedures to at least make us look better. We are so very compulsive about fitness that some of us now suffer from orthorexia: a recently defined mental disorder that amounts to an unhealthy obsession with eating only "healthy" foods.
The irony is that while our society is fixated on doing everything imaginable to extend and improve our physical lives here, very few of us are doing anything at all for our spiritual lives in eternity. I'd venture to say that if we were able to glance at our souls as we walked passed a window or mirror, we'd realize just how emaciated they are. Our world is full of starving souls. That saddest thing of all is how many of us choose to starve ourselves.
All Saints and All Souls help us take a longer and more balanced view of our lives. Life isn't all about now in the short term. It's about the present moment giving us a window into forever. This world exists for the sake of the next. We are all travelers -- or more accurately, pilgrims. We're not standing still; we are on the move. Our bodies carry our souls through our days on earth, but our souls are meant to carry our bodies into heaven. To be human is to live that mystery to its fullest.
Someday, and I don't know when, each one of the people I love will break through the ribbon that stretches across the finish line at the end of his or her race. Some already have. In the meantime, I am running too. There are days when the course seems long, when I can hardly catch my breath, when I'm not sure I can keep going. There are also days when the encouragement I need falls back to where I am and shows me how to keep pace, to take the next stride, or work through and past the pain.
God made our souls to be both beautiful and strong. Those who have run the race to its end have something to teach us about what we'll need to do the same. We may falter, as most of them did, somewhere along the way. But I know that I need their prayers as much as I need their example. I need someone I've known waiting on the other side, and I hope to be that someone for those I will someday leave behind.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.