I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my mother-in-law’s death. Judy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer almost three years ago. She passed away eight weeks later.
When we knew there was no hope left, the wonderful hospice care folks told us what to expect. In the same way that there are specific stages of childbirth, there are specific stages of dying as well. These stages play out a bit differently for everyone, of course, but the nurses told us is that it’s not uncommon for a dying person to seemingly “rally” in their final days.
We ended up being so thankful for that information. Judy had been going steadily downhill, was barely eating, slept most of the time, and didn’t always make sense when she talked. We’d started to prepare for the end.
But then, one day, she seemed markedly better. She had energy. She was lucid. She sat up and talked and laughed and appeared to be making a comeback. She wasn’t doing jumping jacks, but she wanted to go out and go shopping. Hospice told us that families often get false hope during these episodes, thinking their loved one is making a miraculous recovery. It can last hours or even days—and then they quickly decline again. That’s when you know they are really close to the end.
So I’ve been thinking about this in relation to what we’re seeing in the world right now. I believe that much of what we are witnessing may be a stage in the dying process of an outdated worldview. Let me explain:
For most of history, humans have largely operated on greed, prejudice, and fear of “otherness.” War after war has been fought in the name of colonialism, as well as tribalism, racism, nationalism, and every other kind of “ism” based on difference. These “us vs. them” methods of interacting with one another have never gone well, yet we have continually, stubbornly resorted to them.
But it seems we’ve seen an awakening in the past century or so. As we’ve hurtled forward with advancements in transportation and communication, as our world has been shrinking at an accelerating rate, we have begun the messy, inevitable process of forming a truly international community.
Some of us see this as a good thing.
Unfortunately, our spiritual and moral development has not kept pace with our technology, making the process even more challenging. And not everyone is on board with it. Some still see those who look and eat and speak and pray differently from them as The Other, and some still view The Other as scary or backward or wrong. Humans are habitual creatures, and old habits die hard.
But they do die. My faith teaches that world peace is not only possible, but inevitable. We are moving towards a global civilization; there’s no stopping it. And some of us embrace that future. We look forward to a day when we stop seeing our fellow human beings who happened to be born elsewhere as “aliens” and start recognizing the essential oneness of humanity. We understand that we have more commonalities than differences with our brothers and sisters around the globe. We don’t fear globalism because we recognize that we are all part of one whole anyway.
We know that a cooperative international community can benefit everyone, and that nations can retain their individual sovereignty while participating in a consultative tribunal for managing global affairs. We aren’t naïve; we know that we’ll need major changes to the way we approach pretty much everything in order for that international neighborhood to work. We understand that it will likely be a long and messy process and that we’ll for sure make a lot of mistakes along the way.
But we also know that the alternative—isolationist countries and cultures seeking only their own interests—is no longer a sustainable model. It will fail, as it is doomed to fail. Applying old ways of thinking to a new reality simply isn’t going to work.
Not everyone can see that yet, of course. A lot of people feel the world becoming more intertwined and are terrified of that change. Some see their way of life threatened. Some see the power and privilege they’ve enjoyed diminishing. Some simply can’t see anything past fear, so they cling to outdated ideals. They fall back on what seemed to have worked for people like them in the past. They relish in nationalistic pride and allude to a vague, elusive past when life was somehow better (again, for people like them).
This is not just happening in the U.S.; we seem to be seeing a reinvigoration of bigotries in various forms around the world. Prejudices fed by racism, sexism, nationalism, partisanship, religious intolerance, etc., have been shakily but surely declining in recent decades. Now it suddenly feels like we’ve gone backwards.
But I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think we’re losing ground.
I think this is the death rally of a dying order.
That doesn’t necessarily make it easier to deal with, of course. It sucks, frankly. But just as hospice didn’t want us to have false hope when Judy appeared to be getting stronger, we have to be careful not to fall into false despair over what we’re seeing right now.
We don’t have to be thrilled about it, either. The immediate future is not going to be sunshine and roses; in fact, it’s probably going to be brutal and ugly for a while. We will have to hold onto one another and protect those who receive the brunt of it. We’ll need to speak up for the rights of all, and not let injustice go unchecked.
But most importantly, we have to maintain hope. We have to build up the world we want to live in as the old one dies, and not waste our energy fighting a worldview that is going to fall on its own.
Avoid fruitless partisan arguments, which are inherently divisive. (No matter what people say, this is not a partisan issue, especially in the long view.) Channel anger, frustration, and fear into productive, positive action. Work for peace and promote education. Get to know our neighbors and serve our communities. Support organizations that work for justice and equality. Change hearts with radical love and hope.
We have to keep working toward the world we want to see while we wait for this death rally to end. The historical life of intolerance and insular interests is long, and it will take a while for it to die, but die it will.
And when it does, we will not grieve. We will celebrate.