So As Not To Be Dead

I listen to audio-books quite regularly. My reading time is generally not my own, usually spent on my ThM Thesis or some theology book I’m trying to wade through. But every morning and afternoon I have 20 minutes of uninterrupted driving time which I fill by listening to various authors who are wholly unrelated to either my work or schooling.  That’s probably the only way I can account for the fact that I am in the middle of listening to the works of Ray Bradbury.  A few days ago I was listening to his forward for the collection of short stories, The Illustrated Man. In the forward Bradbury recalls a conversation he had with a waiter in a hotel restaurant.

I work from ten to twelve hours, sometimes fourteen,” he [the waiter] says, “and then at midnight I go dancing, dancing dancing until four or five in the morning and go to bed and sleep until ten and then up, up to work by eleven and another ten or twelve or sometimes fifteen hours of work.”

“How can you do that?” I ask.

“Easily,” he says. “To be asleep is to be dead. It is like death. So we dance, we dance so as not to be dead. We do not want that.”

“How old are you?” I ask, at last.

“Twenty-three,” he says.

“Ah,” I say and take his elbow gently. “Ah. Twenty-three, is it?”

“Twenty-three,” he says, smiling. “And you?”

“Seventy-six,” I say. “And I do not want to be dead, either. But I am not twenty-three. How can I answer? What do do?”

“Yes,” says Laurent, still smiling and innocent, “what do you do at three in the morning?”

“Write,” I say, at last.

“Write!” Laurent says, astonished. “Write?”

“So as not to be dead,” I say. “Like you.”


“Yes,” I say, smiling now, myself. “At three in the morning, I write, I write, I write!”

“You are very lucky,” says Laurent. “You are very young.”

“So far,” I say…”

In other words, the greatest meaning these two found in life were in dancing and writing respectively. These things kept them up at night and made them get up early. These are the things that they did “at noon or at 3 AM.” Writing represented Bradbury’s “choreography to outwit death.” 

After reading this well-worded reflection on his passion in life, and after admiring Bradbury’s discipline and love for his craft (surely a tribute to his maker!) I couldn’t help but ponder the question, “what do I do so as not to be dead?” What do I stay up late for? late_into_the_night_by_nawafiai-d6if9wz-002What do I get up early for? What do I do “at noon or at 3 AM” that makes life worth living? The psalmist declares that the way of the righteous man lies in meditating on the Scriptures “day and night” (Ps 1:1–2) and in “seeking the Lord” continually (1 Ch 16:11). Is this what I should do “so as not to be dead?” In the midst of the often frenetic comings and going of my life,  have I remembered that “one thing” of dwelling in communion with God “all the days of my life” (Ps 27:4)? It is so easy to kill fellowship with God by continually doing instead of continually dwelling. I believe that this was the point that Jesus was gently making while at Mary and Martha’s house. He saw that Martha spent her time wrapped up in doing instead of sitting at our Savior’s feet listening.

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. Luke 10: 38-42”

We ourselves need to hear the words of Jesus again. We need to remember that “one thing is necessary” and and we need to choose the “good portion which will not be taken away.”

Jesus himself, in all of his doing (and he did so much all the time), kept seeking his father. He did so in desolate places (Mark 1:35), on mountains (Matt 14:23), and sometimes in the middle of the night, perhaps at 3 AM (Lk 6:12). God was real and there was nothing that could hold Jesus back from communing with his Father. His interactions with God were the thread throughout his busy life, whether it was the warm and familial prayer of John 17: 1-26, or the troubled and desperate prayer made thinking about his future separation from the Father (John 12:27).

Ray Bradbury ended his book’s forward like this: “My tunes and my numbers are here. They have filled my years, the years when I refused to die. And in order to do that, I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, at noon or at 3 A.M. So as not to be dead.” He made a choice, and he chose to write until death claimed him.

What about you? What will you do with your life so as not to be dead? Or perhaps, the questions should be stated, “who will you seek, so as not to be dead?” My advice to follow the example left to us by the one who truly understood what life was all about.


  • James Peterson says:

    Great post Paul, very thought-provoking. Although on another note, I couldn’t help but think that the main thing I find myself doing at three in the morning (besides sleeping) is parenting my 2-year old. :)

    • Paul says:

      Yes, yes, certainly there are those early-morning parenting sessions. I’ve had those myself—I just try (sometimes successfully) to remember, “whatever you did for the least of these…you did for me”:-).

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