I was sitting at a stoplight recently as a very long funeral procession drove by; hearse, family car, and a long line of cars with lights on. It took a while for the procession to go by, so I had a moment to reflect. As I sat there, a John Donne quote came to mind I’d had cause to reference some weeks before:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . [A]ny man’s death diminishes me, because I am [connected to] mankind . . . [N]ever ask for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Hold that picture in your mind — me watching a funeral procession and thinking of John Donne — while I tell you a story. My wife and I raised our kids in a house with a swimming pool. We bought the house because we hoped our children’s friends would gather at our house instead of somebody else’s. It worked. It was a good idea. I’m glad we did it. However, pretty early on, we realized we had to pay a price in dollars and hours for our decision. For all those years whenever Denise and I would go for walks in the neighborhood, she would eye a group of townhomes at the end of a quiet little street in our neighborhood backing up to a nature park. She must have repeated a hundred times, “When the kids are gone, that’s where I want to live – no maintenance, no pool, no yardwork, and we get to look at the nature park. Yep, that’s where I want to live!” A few weeks ago, before we were ready, before our last child is off to college, the very townhouse she’d pointed to for all those years came available. We made an offer, it was accepted, and then began a whirlwind of activity getting our home ready to sell. For two weeks our lives were a whirlwind of painting, re-grouting, wall-hole fixing, and mulching. As I sat at the stoplight watching that funeral procession go by, my body was a wreck. For a week, every muscle I had had hurt. Every day I’d been running out of gas by four in the afternoon. Just days before, I’d pulled over to the side of the road to keep from falling asleep in traffic. I slept for half an hour, dead to the world, oblivious to the roar of eighteen-wheelers rumbling by. I was born with a lot of energy, and a strong drive to get stuff done. Most of my life I’ve been able to accomplish truly epic to-do lists as a matter of course. There was a day I’d have taken all that house-prep duties in stride. I’d have whipped them out, and then jumped right on my duties at the church, and kept up my writing projects at the same time. But not this time. My wife and I are buying the house we will die in. I sat at the stoplight watching the funeral procession having just come from purchasing a couch for the new house – “the last couch we’ll ever buy,” I’d said to Denise (it was a solid one). I’m still young. If I live the average life-expectancy, I have another twenty-five years. However, twenty-five years ago, seems like yesterday! At that stoplight, I understood the ancient poet. The days we get to live on this planet are a vapor – a wisp of smoke, here for but a moment. Death is a bond we all share. I don’t know the man or woman in that hearse, but he or she is me – and you. When the bell tolls, it tolls for every one of us. More next week.
It’s hard to imagine you tired. I had no idea you were worn out. I bet there are a lot of people who just take for granted that you’re an endless source of energy, like a waterfall.
Did you ever read “Wind, Sand, and Stars” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery? In it he describes a group of Saharan Moors touring the Alps when they encounter a tremendous waterfall. They stare and stare, transfixed. Their guide finally tells them it’s time to go. They say they must wait. For what? asks the guide? “The end,” they reply. They simply cannot comprehend that the water can just go on and on endlessly, as it has for a thousand years.
It’s hard to imagine you without energy.
it’s true, karen. i was born w/ an abundance of energy. i’ve had it to burn since i can remember.
and energy is a gift. unfortunately, as often happens, a gift often gets called upon to serve as an identity – as a version of “me” i use to deal w/ the world. however, energy (or vitality, or accomplishment, or sexual prowess, or success in endeavors, or youthfulness), is not a big enough reality to be a “self.” living as a “true self” requires we access ever-deepening dimensions of the divine, the inner breath, the indwelling Spirit.
keeping my mortality (and ours) in mind, serves at the reminder to seek out the “me” that does not depend on the gifts – the “inner-Spirit-me.”
i surely see glimpses of it.
but i also default back to the gift-as-identity-me . . . a lot.
my friend is not death just the beginning of our journey for in it the to do list will be endless. Always love your thoughts brother enjoy your temporary home 🙂
good to hear from you joseph! been a long time! hope you survive the blizzard getting ready to hit you all.