THE SUPREME MOMENT.
Be still Dear Heart and rest;
It is not death, but Birth
Into that larger life
That frees the soul from earth.
The air is purer there,
Perfumed with odors rare;
So sweet and rich, at first,
That one must breathe with care.
Be still Sweetheart and learn;
The lesson will be brief:
Our loved ones help, and soon
Will come Divine relief.
With vision clarified
And ears attuned to joy.
New scenes will meet the eye,
Now tasks the hand employ.
Fear not Beloved, wait;
I hold your hand and pray,
Resigning you to Him –
The Truth, the Life, the Way.
The appearance of serious poetry in a medical magazine is unusual, of course, but it is hoped that none of my readers will be unable to rally from the shock of this unconventional procedure, since there are certain phases of the subject which lend themselves naturally to poetic expression and cannot as adequately be expressed, at least by me, in any other literary form.
Mrs. Sherrill reminiscently, but without indicating the source of her main idea, bravely touched upon a subject which is commonly neglected or avoided by medical writers. Beyond exercising their peculiar and exclusive prerogative of writing death certificates and signing autopsy reports, which, however important they may be, do not require any extraordinary degree of literary ability, doctors are, for the most, silent on the subject. The crowning event of life, “The Great Adventure,” is shunned, camouflaged, kept in the background, or alluded to only covertly.
Death, an event which inevitably comes to all, is subject to a “Conspiracy of Silence.” Little or no attempt is made to see or understand what death really is, how it fits into the general scheme of things, nor what its purpose is. As a process it is commonly viewed only from the mechanical or pathological side. The physiology of death has received scant notice from medical men. Its psychological and spiritual phases have been left to the clergy. From them, varying according to their theological bias and prepossessions, most of us have received our more or less nebulous ideas about death.
It is not to be denied that we are greatly indebted to the clergy for, in spite of their differences, some of them perceived that there is something beneficent about death, and that it may be, after all, a part of the Divine Plan of the Universe, fulfiling an infinitely wise, loving and constructive purpose. Generally, death is regarded as alien to God, and man, an interloper and enemy to be fought “to the last ditch”.
It is from the poets, philosophers, prophets and seers of all ages, that we have received the highest and clearest insight into the mystery of death. They have spoken of what has been revealed to them spiritually in moments of high inspiration. To them have been accorded glimpses behind the veil that hides from carnal eyes the glories of the spiritual world. It would seem, therefore, that death is a subject to which medical thinkers might well give their attention. Undoubtedly there is much which, if learned, might be of great practical value in modifying, correcting or improving medical and psychological treatment of the sick, and in bringing about a more rational and comfortable state of mind generally.
THE GREAT DELUSION
What is this Thing that men call Death –
Which flits across the path of life
In robes of solemn mystery –
This thing of fear and doubt and strife?
Is it a friend, disguised but true,
Who leads us on to realms of light?
Or is it what it grimly seems-
A deadly foe, to fear and fight?.
“A solemn, silent, soulless void,
A vacuum, perfect, unemployed.
No light, no sound, no motion there,
Bleak night, and darkness of despair.
Vibration, action, rhythm none,
No thought, no work nor action done.
All matter, energy and thought
Extinguished, quenched and brought to nought.
Negation, absolute and dumb”.
“And that,” they darkly say, “is Death!”
Who speak the word with bated breath.
By reason, faith and science know
That death is neither friend nor foe.
Tis but a name and nothing more,
A non-existent, viewless shore;
A nothingness conceived in thought,
A spectre which dull ear hath wrought.
Death hath no substance, power or place,
No form or shape in time or space.
Throughout the whole extent of space
There is no rest, nor any place
Where rhythmic motion is not found;
Yet death, they say, is rest profound!
The Ether, vibrant, luminous,
With space is all coterminous.
No space is left unoccupied,
There is no place for death to hide:.
NO energy is unemployed,
No particle can be destroyed.
Of matter and of energy,
In time and in eternity,
The total was and is conserved;
No loss or waste can be observed.
In all the universal range
No death is found, but only change!.
The tide of life forever flows,
Recedes, advances, flows again;
On undertones its billows bear
The Rhythm of a sweet refrain.
Who listens with an ear attuned
May hear the song Creation sings-
The song of glad, triumphant LIFE,
That through eternal ages rings.
The subject of death long has interested me. I have collected and read books and articles upon it, and have talked with many people about it. I have watched and studied the gradual development of the process, sometimes for weeks, and have sat beside the deathbeds of some – gentle souls who were dear to me – and talked to them, held their hands or smoothed their contracted brows while they were passing over the threshold into the Great Beyond.” It has been my privilege sometimes to ease their pain, soothe their restlessness and facilitate their easy transit by the use of certain homoeopathic medicines which act very gently, but very effectually in such cases, without artificially paralysing motor functions and obliterating consciousness as narcotics do.
With these dear ones I have had precious and spiritually exalting moments as they glimpsed the joys awaiting them and tried to communicate them to me – sometimes in words, but oftener with a reassuring smile, a significant look, or a gentle pressure of the hand, recalling our earlier conversations. Several times, after a rather long period of rest so profound that it seemed as if the end had come, I have seen the sudden opening of the eyes, the look of recognition, the irradiation of the countenance, the uplifting of the outstretched arms, and heard the joyous exclamation, “Mother.” Then the quick subsidence into the Silence. In one instance this was from a little child, in another from a woman nearly seventy.
These experiences brought me gradually to the realization that the poet Longfellow was right when he sand, “There is no death! What seems so is transition”; that the current, morbid idea of death is a figment of mans perverted imagination grounded in ignorance and fear; that in truth, as St. Paul said, “Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light.
Other experiences also have I had which sorely tried my faith at times, until I got the larger and more scientific conception of which I shall speak presently. I have sat beside some to whom there were given no such comforting respites, no such cheering glimpses – atrophied, hardened, earth-bound souls, whose lives had been so centered upon material things, or so wrapped up in selfish, sensual or mercenary pursuits that death came to them as a spectre to be denied, or as a grim and pitiless enemy to be resisted and fought with the puny mental weapons of the mart, the court, or the exchange – trickery, evasions, bluster, bullying, cringing, lying – the only weapons known to them. These individuals seem sometimes to regard the physician as the representative or envoy of death. To them he personifies the conquering enemy with whom they must make terms as best they may.
To some of these, in their delirium, came dark and sinister figures; grotesque faces; leering, evil visages; half-recognized but unknown beings lurking in the dark corners of the room, or advancing threateningly toward the victim, inspiring terror and dread. In their lucid intervals there was irritability, complaining, fault-finding, grumbling, cursing, demands for relief, threats, repining, refusal of advice, rejection of consolation, deafness to spiritual instruction, obstinate, wilful blindness to the significance and inevitableness of the crisis that was upon them. Wilful, cruel and selfish in their lives, in death they still feebly tried to oppose their stubborn wills against the will of the Most High until, in His mercy, He laid His hand upon them and quelled their rebellion once and forever.
I fully agree with Mrs. Sherrill that pathological death, or dying, when recognized as imminent and inevitable, should be regarded as a natural and beneficent process and allowed to progress in a natural and orderly manner, without interruption by the administration of oxygen and other stimulants, or the resort to mechanical makeshifts. These expedients, frequently used by misguided medical zealots under the irrational impulse or demand to “do something”, are cruel and inhuman. They constitute a species of medical torture which the dying, above all, should be spared.
Where skilful homoeopathic prescribing is not available, or where the patient is not susceptible to the action of the finer remedial forces of nature by reason of his pathological condition, his character, previous habits or environment, the administration of narcotics may be justifiable if they are demanded.
But their use should be avoided if and as long as possible, because in the usual intervals of more or less clear consciousness, even in the dreadful cases already described, there may arise new perceptions, new insights, new realizations of the significance of the experience, new convictions, out of which may come remembrance of forgotten truth, repentance, important directions or requests, last injunctions, very valuable and precious to both the departing and remaining ones.
And now to the source of most modern, most truly, scientific and most comforting conception of death.
As long ago as 1835, Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801-1887), one of the great thinkers of the world, while yet a young man, first published a little book entitled Das Buchlein vom Leben nach dem Tode, (A Booklet on Life After Death.) It made but little impression, and a second edition was not undertaken until 1866. A third edition in 18887 bore witness that the new generation had begun to appreciate the booklet, and also that its author, then long celebrated for his attainments in the highest problems of moral and natural philosophy, still upheld the views set forth in one of his earliest publications.
In the meantime it had been translated into English and other languages, and several editions have been published since his death in 1887. When it was written Fechner was professor of physics in the University of Leipzig. He labored for many years in the fields of scientific investigation and philosophical and metaphysical speculation. His works steadily made their way among men of science, at home and abroad. Fechners Law, the fundamental law of psychophysics (stating that sensation varies in the ratio of the logarithm of impression) has become a term of international currency.
“He (Fechner) was the first to introduce exact methods, exact principles of measurement and experimental observation for the investigation of psychic phenomena, and thereby to open the prospect of a psychological science, in the strict sense of the word.” (Wundt.).
Fechner was the author of a long and varied list of publications, all bearing the imprint of a master mind. Great as are his acknowledged scientific attainments, however, his highest claim to literary immortality will, I believe, ultimately rest upon his little masterpiece, On Life After Death. For that the world will never cease to owe him a debt of gratitude. This, in its English dress, was issued in 1906 by The Open court Publishing Company.
Fechners psychological teachings were given wide currency in America first, probably, by Professor William James of Harvard, in his Principles of Psychology, and his Life After Death, by the publication in 1908 of The Living Word, by Elwood Worcester, D.D., the famous rector of Immanuel Church in Boston. Dr. Worcester had known and studied under Fechner in Leipzig shortly before the old masters death.
“The effect of his personality and of his thought marked a turning point in my life,” says Dr. Worcester, “and his influence has deepened with the passing years. The greater of Fechners works can be compared only with the Sacred Books of the nations. They are inspired, and they contain a true revelation of God. I can say of them what Schopenhauer said of the Upanishads, They have been the consolation of my life and they will be the consolation of my death”.
It was my privilege to meet and converse with Dr. Worcester while he was writing his book.
Fechners influence upon the great thinkers in science, philosophy and religion has been profound. Professor William James splendid thought is saturated with Fechner, although he does not agree with Fechner in important points. In short, like other men too great for their age, the world is overtaking Fechner and he is coming into his own.
Limitations of space will not permit any lengthy review, nor even an adequate summary of Fechners teachings on death. Perhaps the best that can be done here is to present two or three brief extracts from his Life After Death, in which he sets forth very briefly, but with wonderful clarity and simplicity, the substance of his teaching.
It should be noted that his theory is developed under the principles of the Higher Logic, most important of which is the Law of Analogy, the application of which has led to many of the highest attainments in science.
“Man lives on earth not once, but three times; the first stage of his life is continual sleep; the second sleeping and waking by turns; the third, waking forever.
In the first stage man lives in the dark alone; in the second, he lives associated with, yet separated from, his fellow-men, in a light reflected from the surface of things; in the third, his life, interwoven with the life of other spirits, is a higher life in the HIghest of spirits, with the power of looking to the bottom of finite things.
In the first stage his body develops itself from its germ, working out organs for the second; in the second stage his mind develops itself from its germ, working out organs for third; in the third the divine germ develops itself, which lies hidden in every human mind, to direct him, through instinct, through feeling and believing, to the world beyond, which seems so dark at present, but shall be as light as day hereafter.
The act of leaving the first stage for the second we call Birth; that of leaving the second for the third, Death. Our way from the second to the third is not darker than our way from the first to-the second; one way leads us forth to see the world outwardly; the other, to see it inwardly.
The infant, in the first stage, is blind and deaf to all the light and all the music of the second stage, and having to leave its mothers womb is hard and painful, and at a certain moment of its birth the dissolution of its former life must be like death to it, before it wakens to its new existence. In the same way we, in our present life, with all our consciousness bound up within this narrow body, know nothing of the light, the music, the freedom, and the glory of the life to come, and often feel inclined to look upon the dark and narrow passage which leads towards it, as a little lane with no thoroughfare” to it. Whereas death is merely a second birth into a happier life, when the spirit, breaking through its narrow hull, leaves it to decay and vanish, like the infants hull in its first birth. And then all those things which we, with our present senses, can only know from the outside, or, as it were, from a distance, will penetrated into, and thoroughly known, by us.
The infant, when in its mothers womb, has merely a body-spirit – the Formative Principle. Its actions are limited to growing, to producing and developing its several limbs and organs. It does not feel them as its own property, it does not use them, nor is it able to use them. A beautiful eye, a beautiful mouth are merely beautiful objects to the infants; it has produced them without being aware that one day they shall be useful parts of its own self. They are made for the world to come whereof it knows nothing, fashioned through some mysterious impulse, the origin of which must be traced back to the organization of its mother.
As soon, however, as the infant, nurtured for the second stage of life, leaves its primary organs behind, it grows self- conscious, feels itself an independent unity of all its self- created organs; the eye, the ear, the mouth, henceforth are its own; and having produced them through some innate impulse, unconsciously, it now learns to use them, rejoicing in its strength; a world of light, of colors, sounds, odors, tastes, reveals itself through the organs produced for those purposes.
Now, the relation of the first stage of life to the second will recur, in a climax, in the relation of the second stage to the third. In a way similar to the one just alluded to, all our volitions and actions in this world are intended to produce an organism, which in the world to come we shall perceive and use as our own new Self. All the mental influences, all the results due to the actions of a person in his lifetime, which spread all over mankind and all over the earth, are, even at present, bound up together by a mysterious, invisible bond, thus forming a persons spiritual organs, fashioned during his life and combined into a spiritual body, an organism of continually active powers and effects, of which, though indissolubly connected with his present existence, he has at present no consciousness.
In the moment of death, however, when man has to part with those organs in which his powers of acting lay, he will, all at once, become conscious of all the ideas and effects which, produced by his manifold actions in life, will continue living and working in this world, and will form, as an organic offspring of an individual stem, an organic individuality which only then becomes alive, self-conscious, self-active, relay to act through the human and natural world of its own will and power”.