“Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” That is a message I get on my smartphone five times a day.
I know it sounds crazy, but I actually purchased an app to remind me of my mortality. The app, “WeCroak,” not only sends these alerts at random times, it invites me to open the app to read one of 600 quotes loaded on the app. As far as I can tell, the quotes are picked randomly as well. So far, I’ve found the simple reminder of my mortality more impactful than the quotes. But the quotes do slow me down a little, which is good.
Because I’m not a early riser, this reminder of reality is sometime there to greet me when I first look at my phone. I was at a lunch with a colleague recently when my phone buzzed. I looked my friend right in the eye and said, “Remember, you’re going to die,” not quite quoting the app. He looked at me quizzically, wondering what prompted my non sequitur. I shared a little info about the app and he said he might download it, hoping it might form a spiritual discipline in preparation for Lent. I downloaded it in preparation for a four-part educational series the Ministry of Social Concerns Team is holding starting this month, “Leave Peace Not Chaos” and the documentary we’re showing on January 12.
WeCroak is based on a Bhutanese aphorism: “To find happiness, contemplate death five times a day.” I’ve found it to be not so much an invitation to contemplate my death as it is an invitation to pray. Something a little Muslim about that, which makes me smile.
Writing about the app in The Christian Century magazine, United Church of Christ pastor Matt Fitzgerald says, “Five times a day sound excessive, almost gleeful, like a dog rolling in rotting fish. But if you’ve been refusing the reality of death for years, an occasional reminder is easy to bat down. And those of us who encounter death regularly might be the best at defending ourselves. It’s a skill we’ve honed.”
He’s right that clergy encounter death more frequently than most people. Most medical professionals and first responders probably encounter it more than clergy, and certainly undertakers do, but other than those professions, us clergy types may need the reminder, the chipping away at our defenses, more than most.
Perhaps I haven’t had the app long enough to have experienced the “cumulative wallop” Fitzgerald says it “inflicts.” “It will force you to cinder the grave personally. It doesn’t happen immediately. The app’s effect unfolds like a slow-motion bomb, wrecking whatever defenses you’ve erected to protect yourself from death’s sting. The bizarre thing is, WeCroak made me happy as it blew me apart.”
I wonder what will happen to me.
My favorite story Fitzgerald tells in his article is of how he was trying to get his teenaged son to wash the dishes. Fitzgerald asked; the teen ignored him. Fitzgerald insisted; the teen refused. Fitzgerald was getting ready to explode, and his phone buzzed. “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.”
“I inhaled sharply,” Fitzgerald writes. “My eyes watered. Death’s scent and sting stopped me. I stood silently as if I had just discovered something. I had just discovered something. I don’t want my rage lodged in my child’s psyche. I spoke softly to my son. I was happy.”
I’m not suggesting you download WeCroak. I am suggesting you don’t let denial of the reality of your mortality keep you from participating in our January documentary or in the “Leave Peace Not Chaos” series over the next four months.