Thanks to Jon Wilkening and his Monday Morning Dispatch for 1/8/2018, I watched the American Master’s episode on Richard Avedon recently. At 1:00:10, Julius Lester says, of one of Avedon’s portraits of his elderly father
We’re all skulls. And I look at that photograph and I see his skull. And then I wonder, what if we went around and related to each other as if we were all skulls, and we’re all going to die, and whenever we die, it’s going to be too soon… Everything else is irrelevant. Race, religion, gender, all the squabbles we get into is irrelevant to the fact that, in the end, we all look alike: we’re all skulls.
So what if we really did go around, relating to one another as if we’re all going to die, and whenever we die, it’s going to be too soon? What a wonderful world this could be, as the saying goes.
But that’s hard. Nobody wants to think about death, let alone talk about it, or look at family members as if they’re always, already just one breath away from a too-soon death. But, really, that’s where we all are, and we need to keep it in mind.
I know, for example, that I’m going to die one day. And I know I’m going to be asked about all that I did and didn’t do in this life. As Allah tells us in Surah Ali’ Imran
كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ ۗ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۖ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ ۗ وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ
Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your [full] compensation on the Day of Resurrection. So he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained [his desire]. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion.
I know what that means, for me, but what does that mean for my relationship with you?
Sure, I’ll be asked about my Akhlaq and Adab, my manners and etiquette, but that’s still a selfish concern: my manners, my etiquette, my Day of Judgement. What does “we’re all skulls” mean for my interactions with you?
I’m not sure, maybe remembering your death will help me be kinder, more patient, more generous in sharing my time and energy with you, encourage me to make more dua for you, and to more regularly thank Allah for putting you on the earth, and making you a part of my life.