We're Gonna Die And It Will Be OK

September 15, 2012

This content is sourced from The Huffington Post.

By Paul Brandeis Rausenbush, Senior Religion Editor, The Huffington Post

Last year I was invited last minute to see a show at The Public Theater in New York with the funny, threatening and compelling title: We're Gonna Die.

"Sounds like a blast," I told my friends.

Who knew that by the end of the 90 minute production I, and the rest of the audience, would join Young Jean Lee and her accompanying band Future Wife in a rousing a capela version of the title song:

"We're gonna die, we're gonna die someday; Then I'll be gone, and it will be OK."

"The point of the show is acceptance of the fact that we are all going to die and a celebration of our freedom from that anxiety."

It was a riveting experience. As we sung our mortality, growing louder and more convinced at each verse we experienced an odd solidarity and liberation which transcended the "magic of the theatre." The catchy tune and its persuasive death knell has stayed with me over the last year offering an important spiritual message that continues to tug at me no matter how much I would like to swat it away.

I spoke to Young Jean Lee about the performance recently as We're Gonna Die is currently being restaged at Lincoln Center through Sept. 15. She told me that the entire show intentionally builds toward that moment of communal musical acknowledgement of our mortality:

"The point of the show is acceptance of the fact that we are all going to die and a celebration of our freedom from that anxiety."

The show was prompted by the artist's grief over her father's death which was made all the more difficult because of the bumbling of physicians and the extreme pain and fear her father experienced at the end. She was helped out of her depression by a surprising note from a friend who had just experience a series of catastrophes in her own life. The friend's words to Lee became another song in the play asking:

"Who do you think you are to be immune from tragedy? What makes you so special that you should be unscathed?"

It sounds harsh, but it made the artist confront some fundamental presumptions she had maintained about her own life -- namely that Young Jean Lee did consider herself special and unlike others who would face sickness and death. And once she had accepted her own humaness, it helped:

"It is not possible to be totally free of the anxiety of death but one thing that helps is if you can accept that, when something bad happens to you like sickness, or aging or death, that it is happening just because that is what happens to people, it is just a part of being human.

In our culture there is a self-help mentality where if you become fit enough or psychologically healthy enough or rich enough, then somehow you will be able to escape the things that happen to all human beings and that is a damaging lie."

Ain't it the truth.

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