Only Mostly Dead
One of my favorite classic movie lines comes from Miracle Max in The Princess Bride. At one point in the story, evil Prince Humperdinck captures the hero, Westley, who is then taken to the Pit of Despair and tortured by Humperdinck’s second-in-command. When two unlikely friends rescue Westley, he appears dead. Not to be discouraged, they take him to Miracle Max. There, Max declares “your friend here is only mostly dead… mostly dead is slightly alive” and administers a remedy that revives him. Over the course of several hours he returns to health and strength.
I have had my own experiences with the “mostly dead” phenomenon. Six weeks ago, the plant you see below seemed destined for the garbage can or compost pile. All the foliage was brown and there were only a handful of live blooms. We had been out of town for more than two weeks. While most of our other flowers fared well, this thirsty plant in a hanging basket could not handle the combination of higher than normal heat, and less frequent than usual watering.
The logical thing to do would have been to throw it out. There are many other plants in our yard. The combination of perennials and potted annuals provides some splashes of color throughout the summer and early fall. But I could not bear to declare this plant dead. I took it to a less visible location and watered it daily, for nearly a month. I had an almost motherly feeling for my struggling plant, and enjoyed a sense of triumph when it was restored to its former beauty.
Why couldn’t I throw the plant out? The obvious answer is that I find great satisfaction in nurturing growing things. Perhaps that points to my roots, as I had one set of grandparents that farmed and another that were avid gardeners. That may be true, but there is something deeper at work, which is the affirmation of life in a broader and deeper sense. This is the third plant I have nursed back to health in recent years. Each time, I am reminded that rebirth is possible in many things that seem dead.
That dream I’ve had for years, that never seems to be fulfilled? Maybe I should hold on to it for another day, or even decade. The strained or neglected friendship, that seems almost too far gone? It may be that a phone call, act of kindness, or heartfelt note will begin the healing. The marriage of that couple I care about, that seems about to disintegrate? It could come back from the brink. With the right kind of care and good counseling, I have seen it happen. That young person caught up in self-destructive behaviors? She could yet find the courage to reach out for help and to begin making one right choice at a time.
There are so many wonderful words that start with “re”, that speak hope to us. Rebirth, renewal, reconciliation, restoration, refresh, and rejuvenate come to mind. I’m sure you could think of more. God is the author of all that is contained in that precious prefix.
Think of Abraham who became a father late in life. As Hebrews 11:12 puts it “and so from this one man, and he as good as dead (at 100 years old) came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky”. The Old Testament traces the history of the nation that came from Abraham, which follows many cycles of disobedience and defeat, followed by restoration. God promised in Ezekiel 36 that he would give his people “a new heart and put a new spirit” in them. What an amazing promise to make to a rebellious nation.
The ultimate fulfillment of this promise is extended to the entire human race through Jesus. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ when we were dead in transgressions” (Eph 2:4-5). Humanity has given God countless opportunities to pronounce us too far gone, and yet in compassion he has given us the path to restoration. Our souls, devoid of signs of the life he designed us for, have been given the chance to bloom again. That is the joy we celebrate at Easter, and should carry with us every day.
There are images of rebirth all around us. Seeds that appear lifeless, when placed in the right soil can produce plants that provide food and beauty. A caterpillar entombed in a cocoon bursts forth, no longer an earthbound creature. A community devastated by flood, earthquake, or tornado, courageously rebuilds. Each of these can remind us to hold on to hope, to cultivate rather than cast off. What seems mostly dead just might be slightly alive.