Edge of the Conodoguinet Creek, Still Waters Retreat, Carlisle, PA
“Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” – WeCroak.com
I had been keeping an eye on the spot for weeks. I thought it was a bug bite. I thought it would go away. But it didn’t. Finally, on the first free morning I had, the
morning I was set to go on silent retreat, I googled my symptoms and found out
I was dying.
Well, I’m not dying (I repeat: NOT DYING), but that morning,
based on what I read online, death suddenly seemed like a plausible possibility. Not only was my symptom a possible sign of something
bad, it was a symptom of something very
bad. I called my Dr and made an
appointment for the following day. I
called back again and said I’d be more than happy to come in that very day if they happened to have a
Then, with nothing more to do, I left for my scheduled
retreat, for six hours of silence and solitude with the news of my own
impending death tagging along, an unwelcome, nagging companion.
My husband and I recently learned about an app called WeCroak
which sends users a text, five times a day, with a simple reminder, “Don’t
forget, you’re going to die.” The text
arrives at random intervals (like death) and keeps things simple, clear, and direct.
My husband learned about it through a counselor, discussing
humanity’s fear of death as a source of generalized anxiety. I heard about it from my Spiritual Director
after sharing about my silent retreat. “These kinds of experiences can
help us wake up,” she said.
One would think a silent retreat, with death as your companion,
would be The. Worst. But, it wasn’t.
After driving to the tiny house in the woods, I sat in the
kitchenette drinking tea. Surrounded by
windows, I watched bees flitting from plant to plant. Upstairs, later, I rocked in a cushioned chair,
reading Richard Foster’s, “Freedom of Simplicity.” When reading grew tiresome, I stared out another
set of windows and watched witless carpenter bees droning in lazy, senseless
circles. I took a nap, half-wrapped in a
downy quilt, while the sun shone down on me.
I woke to a stink bug landing too near my face.
Don’t get me wrong, I was distracted. I fought back tears from time to time and found
it nearly impossible to focus on my original intentions for the day. I spiraled into moments of worry and anxiety.
I thought about my kids and what would happen to them if
something happened to me. I want to say
my concerns were selfless, but they weren’t.
I mourned my loss of influence in their lives, the things I would not
get to see. I realized, I will not last
the test of time. Which is to say, I
will die, and the world will go on without me. There isn’t really a single thing I can
invest in that will last; as Theresa of Avila said in her famous bookmark
prayer, “All things are passing away.”
Except, that is, for love.
Later in the day, I ate my lunch sitting in an old Adirondack
chair near a wide and lazy creek. The
surface of the water hardly seemed to move at all. If I shifted my focus, I could see long fish
swimming loops along the muddy floor. Dandelions,
with heads gone white like old lady’s hair, stood along the edge of the water,
bearing witness, I thought, to its passage.
Those dandelions are, I’m sure, gone today. But the creek remains.
It seems to me, that love must be something like that stream
– constant, slow, enduring, and we are like those fading flowers on the
shore. In which case, the only sane thing
to do is cast ourselves, wholeheartedly, into love’s great stream, to become – with
heart, soul, and mind – part of the love that never fails.
This is what death told me last week, when I allowed it to
draw near via a googled symptom and online self-diagnosis. Maybe others might learn the same by answering
death’s texts five times a day for months on end. The apostle Paul, who had his own travels
with death as a companion, tells us the same, “now faith, hope, and love abide,
these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor 13:13)
Death’s message was clarifying and simple. It put my world, which I thought had been tipped
on its head, right-side-up again. It
brought my feet closer to solid ground, which is to say, it gave me level
footing in the land of acceptance.
I did not make peace with death over the course
of six silent hours spent in the woods on a sunny Wednesday in early May. I’m not that naive. But I did catch a glimmer of a gift hiding in
death’s hand, enough to make me understand what we lose living in a time and place
where death is treated as an inconvenient truth, a reality best avoided at all
You can read more about the WeCroak App in this article in The Atlantic. Let me know if you try it out!