“This little book of thoughts on the mystery of death is a treasury of wisdom on the great perennial questions: What is the good life? How do I live it?” —Mary Ann Glendon, Professor of Law, Harvard University
“Intelligent and wise people have thought and written a great deal about death, and some of the best of what they’ve said has been collected by Father Neuhaus in this volume. The book is worth its price for the pieces by Flannery O’Connor, John Donne, and Peter De Vries alone; but there’s great wisdom, too, in Neuhaus’s own discussion of death, the kind of wisdom that comes only from a close approach to death. If you’re someone who’s preparing for death—and you are, like it or not—an attentive and repeated reading of what’s in this book will help you to prepare well.” —Paul J. Griffiths, Professor of the Philosophy of Religions, University of Chicago
Drawing upon a vast range of human experience and reflection, The Eternal Pity: Reflections on Dying demonstrates how people try to cope with the inevitability of death. Different cultures, informed by religious beliefs and sometimes desperate hope, teach people to respond to their own death and the deaths of others in modes as various as defiance, stoic resignation, and unbridled grief. In addition to examples from literature, poetry, and religious texts, Father Richard John Neuhaus provides an intensely personal account of his encounter with death through emergency cancer surgery and reflects on how that encounter has changed the way he lives.
While many writers have deplored the “denial of death” in our culture, The Eternal Pity shows how themes of death and dying are nevertheless perennial and pervasive. Society may be viewed as a disorganized march of multitudes waving little banners of meaning before the threat of nonbeing that is death. Some selections in this book depict people utterly surprised by their mortality; others highlight how the whole of one’s life can be a preparation for what used to be called “a good death.” For some, life is a relentless effort to hold death at bay; for others, death is, although not welcomed, reflectively anticipated. Nothing so universally defines the human condition as the fact that we shall die. The Eternal Pity helps us to understand how the prospect of death compels decisions about how we might live.