The journey continues
Time is an interesting construct. Somewhere I read that time is a human invention that arises out of our inability to comprehend the vastness of God’s creation. Our brains are capable of processing only part of the mighty sweep of history and therefore we have come up with units of measurement: minutes, days, months, years to help us comprehend that which is too vast and too wonderful for us to take in all at once. Frequently, in weddings and funerals and other times of passage, I will use the phrase, “a lifetime is all too short.” A lifetime is all too short to explore all of the meanings of love. A lifetime is all too short to tell all of the stories of the ones we love. A lifetime is all too short to comprehend the mystery of the birth of a child.
But a lifetime is a different measure of time for different people. The oldest person to ever live - that can be verified at least - is Jeanne Calment, a French woman who lived to be 122 years old. That’s 120 years more than the youngest person for whom I officiated at a public funeral. Yet each life was complete. Each spirit embraced by God’s love. Each person loved by family and their death grieved by friends. Each life impacted others in ways that cannot be forgotten.
The stories of our people tell of lives that spanned centuries. The person in the Bible who lived the longest was Methuselah who in Genesis 5:27 is said to have lived to an astounding 969 years old, although, that was still only a few more years than Jared who lived to 962 (Genesis 5:20). In Genesis 6:1-3 the Bible says that human life is (without godly intervention) 120 years, but Psalm 90:10 says that human life proceeds to 70 years old, or "even" through strength to 80. The Bible, especially in Genesis, describes many people living for hundreds and hundreds of years, although, rarely is there any detail to flesh out what those people done for all that time - their lists of wives and children are comparable to other people who lived normally long lives. Later books of the Bible make some assertions as to what allows people to live longer; Proverbs 9:10-11 and 10:27 say that fearing God prolongs life, and Exodus 20:12 says the same of honoring your father and mother.
In our lives there are relatively long spans of time that seem to have passed very quickly. It is hard for us to believe that our son will turn 40 next month. Our memories of his birth are so close to our hearts that it seems like just yesterday. The forty-two years of our active careers as ordained ministers went by so quickly, even though there were some days - there were some meetings - that seemed to go on forever and at the time we thought might never end.
We count years with the coming of certain holidays. Birthdays give us occasion to count. The coming of the sacred days of the Christian calendar remind us of the flow of time. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and it is one of the measures of the Covid pandemic for me. It was on Ash Wednesday 2020 that I last had the experience of looking the people I served in the eyes as I touched their hands and foreheads with the ashes. Ash Wednesday was an emotional day for me because it was a day of being reminded not only of my own mortality, but also of the mortality of those in our congregation. The Bible tells us that Adam, whose name in Hebrew means humus or soil, was scooped from the soil. Eve, whose name in Hebrew means breath, came from the same source. Together they formed the foundation of all humans. We are scooped from the soil, inspired with the breath of life, and we return to the soil from which new life comes. We are mortal. We do not go on forever. And so we pray for the wisdom to count - and value - the time we have as living, breathing souls.
One measure of time for our family is the span of the lives of our grandchildren. When we learned that our daughter was going to become a mother, we laughed and danced for joy. Even though they were living in Japan and even though we had made a trip to visit them in Japan in 2018, we never considered not going back to meet our new grandchild. Our timing was a bit off. He came a little bit early and we didn’t get there until after he was born, but our first meeting was as wonderful as we could have imagined. Life is often better than our imaginations.
In the span of his life, we faced a near death experience when Susan’s heart stopped twice in the same day as the result of a reaction to a medication. Two code blues followed by a long recovery. Our son flew to be with us that day. Our daughter rushed back to the United States with her then three-month-old son to provide her support. We got through that time. But it isn’t all that happened in our grandson’s lifetime. The world was plunged into a pandemic and an economic crisis. We came to the end of our active careers and retired - a date we had set before Susan’s medical crisis. We celebrated 25 years of ministry with our Rapid City church family. We sold and moved out of the house we had occupied for 25 years - the longest either of us had lived at the same address in our lives. We made four trips to Washington moving our belongings. We rented a new home and went through the process of changing our address. We became citizens and registered to vote in our new state. Not only did we move, but our son and his family sold their home and moved to a new to them home. Our daughter and her family are now in the midst of a move from Misawa, Japan to Sumpter, South Carolina.
Yesterday as we took a walk in a nearby park, Susan and our young grandson went ahead as I lingered with our daughter. As I watched them walk, I was overwhelmed with the joy of the journey. No matter how you measure - in years, or in miles, or in memories, we have had a rich journey.
And that journey continues.