This Sickness Will Not End in Death: A Diary

Design by Yuen Ning Chang

Today and Everyday by Lucy Santiago (MC ’24) is a bimonthly column about faith and ritual. 


I can feel things ending. The orange of Hillhouse is fading to brown, like muscle decaying into fat in an aging man. I’m starting to wander too far away from my childhood to easily find my way back. I flirt with a world of credit cards and long-term boyfriends and Faye Webster. The love I’ve counted on to push me like a steam engine for nearly three years now is cooling; one day soon it’ll burn low and long like coals. I’ve watched men walk over coals.


If you haven’t heard the story of Lazarus, I’ll tell it to you. Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, is very sick. His sisters send word to Jesus, asking for his help, but Jesus does not go right away. Instead, he waits, and by the time he has arrived, Lazarus has died. Everyone is grieving, and some say that if Jesus had come sooner, he could have prevented Lazarus’s death. Although it has been many days, Jesus demands to see Lazarus’s body. They warn him against the stench. He ignores them. And when they roll back the stone over his grave, there is Lazarus: alive. In the face of this miracle, Jesus only says: “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”


Years ago now, at my lowest point, I went through the world like a dead person. I was bones and nothing else. I remember almost nothing from this time, except the taste of cream in my coffee. I did not expect this to end. Of course, it did. When I recovered from my depression, I was terrified that joy would betray me. Of course, it didn’t. Taking off my graveclothes, I was surprised to find I was living again.


I do not want to embrace endings or draw towards death; I don’t have the courage. Jesus waits two days before going to Lazarus, but I would like to wait forever. My fear of death and dying picks at me, pulls at my clothing. It makes me press closer to what’s here for now, anxiously calling my grandmother every day. We talk about the weather and what she’s seen on the evening news; I am somewhat appeased. At other times, I turn away, shrinking down like Alice in Wonderland until I can escape my life through the world’s tiniest door. I cannot go to Lazarus to face his death. Instead, I sit and grieve in the space between life and death, knowing I should go to Judaea. I am afraid of the stench, of the faces of Lazarus’s sisters.


At the time of my recovery from depression, I carried a feminist psychoanalysis book––Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés––everywhere with me, like a talisman. Pinkola Estés advises: “We have always been taught that death is followed by more death. It is simply not so.” Death clears the way for new life, part of an endless cycle of regeneration. It is the essential “night between two days,” and none can hide from it. Not even me, not even by cowering. She writes, “Fear is a poor excuse for not doing the work.” Death is staring me down, and I am scared. But it is my best interest to stare back.


And looking closer into death’s mouth, I will tell you the truth: I am no longer terrified. Things are quite clear. I feel compelled. This morning I walked through campus like I was walking down an unlit hallway, stumbling, thrilled at the brush of a hand. I am in great anticipation of some fresh light. I am reminded of a moment three years ago, when, while meditating, I suddenly remembered dissecting a rat in high school. With a blade, I had cut the thin connective tissue tying the rat’s skin to its muscle. It was almost mucosal. In the same way, I took that gentle blade to my mind and slowly cut at an imagined tissue tethering my brain to my skull. When I finished, a warm and tingling sensation covered the top of my head, tickling me. It stayed that way for days. At this moment, I feel that way again. I know this sounds like too much; it is the truth.


We do not see beyond Lazarus’s second birth. We don’t watch his sisters wash the decay from his face; we don’t watch him return to work the next week. We can’t know how he uses his second chance at life. Maybe he seizes it, becoming the man he never was, accomplishing all those things he put aside. But maybe it’s more likely that he lives how he did before. Except now he knows what it is to die, and he knows he will do it again.


My clarity is not permanent. In fact it is already gone. Instead of sitting with it all, untangling what this season of my life means to me, I went to class. I have life to live amid my small ways of dying. I know that facing death terrifies me. I also know that it is the only way for me to see clearly. This is an attempt to describe my experience. I am trying to speak truly. In the midst of senescence and stagnation, I am still not sure where to go. But after this death has come and gone, I believe I will find myself living.

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