Perhaps it was several months after I began my second half century of living that I started to face the reality of dying. The decade of the ’90’s was the decade of death for me. Within a short time span my wife’s parents both died, she suddenly with heart failure, and he from a combination of heart ache and lung cancer. It was a tough period of our lives. My wife was not good at grieving and although it was seldom if ever mentioned, her parents deaths were always standing in the shadows of our minds. Three years later my father died and my grief was painful and lasting. And then in December of 1997, only 10 days before her 44th birthday, my Jeanine suffered a fatal heart attack. Now death was really personal, and ugly, and unavoidable forever more.
Meanwhile, in the small community where I lived in North Texas, friend after friend lost battles to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and old age. And, back home in the mountains of North Carolina aging aunts and uncles and alcoholic cousins were dying. I started to notice the ages of people whose obituaries were in the Dallas Morning News, and that maybe half of them were younger than me.
After being remarried to a wonderful woman in 1999 and our shared ministry to people in grief for about eight years, my personal mortality is never far from my consciousness. This month, Lord willing, I will have my 66th birthday. Sixty six years of high mileage, mostly on bad roads with little maintenance, has left me with my share of aches, pains, and scars to remind me of the “good old days”.
I don’t mind dying. I don’t dread it one bit so far as I can tell. If God and His Word are reliable (and they are!) I am not only ready, but some days eager for that transition. My problem is the distance between today and that day, whenever it is. You see, my body is aging at a faster rate than my mind. Often I’ll catch myself dreaming the dreams of a much younger man, not one who is riding at a quick gait into the sunset. I have quite a “bucket list” but most of those things are no more realistic than the visions of a little boy who hopes to take on the super-powers of his super heroes on TV.
It isn’t easy to stand flat footed and look reality full in the face. There are things I would like to do that will not happen, not only because of the brevity of life, but other reasons as well. Don’t mistake this seeming pessimism as me giving up on living, nothing could be farther from the truth. I still have a jest for living and count myself among the most fortunate to have the life I have.
I am disappointed that minds and bodies don’t usually age at the same speed. Some people’s bodies function well long after their minds have stopped being useful. Others have great minds, wonderful dreams, and fresh ideas trapped in bodies too worn out and disfunctional to give real meaning to what they imagine.
Give up? Never! Often when I go to my tool box it’s the old tools that are the best ones. Maybe it’s true as well for what some folks would consider old fools. So, I’ll keep hope alive, keep dreaming big dreams, and trusting my God and who knows? It is such hope, a fresh optimism at the start of each new day, that gives texture and vitality to living and causes an old man to walk with his face into the wind and his eyes on the horizon eager for the next challenge.
To my young friends: No, life isn’t fair. But, God is faithful! Even if you put your whole trust in Christ and follow Him the days of your life it might not end well…on earth. Good men and women, holy people, die in auto accidents, fall victim to cancer, and even are tortured and killed because of their faith. The good news is eternal life trumps all of our troubles and trials. One day the eternal day will break out and darkness and every evil will forever be no more. Live, and love, and learn, all day every day. Every life is a gift, use yours wisely.
Life is a unique gift not to be taken lightly.