The well known film director Woody Allen was reported to have said, ” I am not afraid of death, but I just don’t want to be around when it happens”(paraphrase).
Many of us are like him, and we do not like to talk about death, and when it can happen to us. So we ‘bury’ the thought of death and proceed to ‘enjoy life’ and live for the moment.
Some of my dear classmates may be wondering why I am hubbing on such an ‘unpalatable’ subject as ‘death’. Because death and what happens hereafter has to do with life here on earth (how we live and what we believe), and also the hope of ‘Life’ after death (where we will be eternally).
My classmates will recall that we sang “Going home” as a ‘tribute’ to 12 of our classmates who have passed on. I trust that they will also remember that I shared that this song is apparently based on a Scripture passage, Hebrews 11, which documented the faith of Christians who exercised faith and clung to hope, in the midst of persecution and suffering. The unbelievers were stunned and taken aback to see them singing hymns, and praying aloud, as they entered the dens of lions, and as they were crucified, and burned at the stakes.
Here is a demonstration of how faith and hope enabled these various ones to persevere and to endure until the end.
When I sent a Christian book I wrote to my classmates, “Following Christ in the last days” on our 40th anniversary, I penned that I wanted to share with them the ‘Life’ I found in Christ. Now on the 50th anniversary, the concern to share what I found becomes more urgent, especially when many of us are struck down by ‘old age’, sickness, and what is described by Solomon about old age and dying.
I request your pardon, but I need to share because it is so important and true to me all these 65 years of my life as a Christian. Allow me to share some personal experiences I have not shared with many of you as we journey as doctors all these years.
My first encounter with the possibility of death took place as a medical officer in the Neuro-surgical ward which ‘houses’ patients with Torula meningitis. My ‘boss’ told me that it is very infectious and deadly. Unfortunately, one of these patients ‘collapsed’ on my ward round, and I went to resuscitate him without my protective equipment (including gowns, masks, gloves). I received a shelling from my ‘boss’ for doing so and I just replied that I had no choice because he had only 3 minutes before permanent ‘brain death’. Nonetheless, he told me I was an idiot – it is either him or me – and I was told to monitor myself for one week and any sign of fever may mean the ‘end of me’.
Years later, when my son was about 4 years old, I experienced difficulties in breathing and syncope – I was admitted to TTSH and subsequently sent to the ICU. I recalled vividly that night in the ICU, struggling to breathe and hearing many of the patients literally dying and some had to be resuscitated without success. Later on, I was told that the diagnosis was suspected to be myocarditis and I was told not to exert or exercise lest I collapse. But what was and is most significant to me was an experience of encountering the Lord Jesus in the midst of my struggles and dyspnea. I told God I was not ready to die as my son was still young and I just started working without any insurance or even a home for my family ( a medical officer at that time cannot be categorised as one who made it financially). I was already a Christian but there was so much stress, anxiety and struggles that night until in the midst of it all, I suddenly sensed a peace and the ‘presence’ of God in the night and I was able to ‘rest in the midst of struggles’. Believe it or not, one cannot pretend to be calm and at rest in the face of probable death, unless there is reality in one’s experience to realise it. Since then, I have encountered more near-death experiences, pain (not just physical but emotional and spiritual) but I can honestly say that Christ is real in my life and my prayer is that He can also be real in your lives.
Hence the subject of death and life – ultimately it has to be ‘life after death’. My sincere question to all my dear classmates, “Are you sure of what will happen to you after death’ such that it makes an impact on the way you live and what you believe here on our short transient ‘journey on earth’?
One of the classmates lamented, ‘Of the original120 or so a few have reached stardom but for the rest….the stars we could reach were just starfish on the beach”. The same wise Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes: “There is no remembrance of people of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them” (1:11)…For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die”(2:16).
Whether we are wise, whether we have achieved ‘stardom’, what will remain and what have been achieved will soon be forgotten.
We close with the words of Apostle Paul: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary ,but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).Blessings.