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.