In order to describe the terrain of that strange country called death it is helpful to have stood on its outskirts, so Fr. Neuhaus has a certain sympathetic authority for the editorship of this thoughtful anthology of texts (Neuhaus's autobiographical account of a near-fatal bout with colon cancer is certainly not least among them) from many different cultures, periods, and philosophical and religious outlooks on what another anthology -- the New Testament -- calls ''the last enemy.'' Though our culture may be fairly accused of death-denying, most others have been pervaded by literary reflections on death, encouragements and advice on how to achieve ''a good death,'' or candid admissions of attitudes ranging from terror to resignation to welcome. The great common implication of all these responses is that how we view dying immediately impinges on how we do our living.
An Eighth Day View:
Drawing upon a vast range of human experience and reflection, The Eternal Pity: Reflections on Dying demonstrates how people have tried to cope with the inevitability of death. Different cultures, informed by religious belief and sometimes desperate hope, teach people to respond to their own death and the death of others in modes as various as defiance, stoic resignation, and grief unbridled to the point of exhaustion. 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 the changes that encounter has made in the way he lives.
While some contemporary writers have deplored the "denial of death" in our culture, The Eternal Pity shows how themes of death and dying are perennial and pervasive, although not always made entirely specific. Society may be viewed as a disorganized march of multitudes waving little banners of meaning in the face of the threat of non-being that is death. Some selections in this book reveal 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 that final indignity compels a variety of decisions about how we might live.