“The length of our days is seventy years— or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away”. (Psalms 90:10)
“And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
It’s not new news. We are born, we live, we die, we face our Creator. Solomon said that the years of life pass as a shadow, and the living know that they will die (Ecclesiastes 6:12, 9:5).
I don’t remember the first time death entered my life. I suppose it was when my Grandmother; my Father’s Mother, died. I barely remember her. My grandfather remarried, and she insisted that we call her Aunt Julia instead of Grandmother. My Father, who usually stopped in to see his Mother on the way to work didn’t on that particular day, blamed himself.
I remember another death from around that time. My Father was whacking weeds the old fashioned way from before weed whackers were invented. He was using a scythe. Our dog thought it was a game and got in the sweeping arc of his swing. They called a county deputy sheriff out to put him down and kept us kids away so we wouldn’t see it. We heard the gunshot, and the dog disappeared. I was about 5. I suppose it was to protect us that it was all handled so delicately. I guess it worked, because I really didn’t understand what it was all about. I just knew my dog went away to doggie heaven or something like that.
I was about ten when my Stepfather’s brother was killed in a highway accident. The bulldozer he was rolling up onto a flatbed truck rolled over on him and crushed him. I still didn’t quite ‘get’ death, but my Step-father, like my Father was forever after a different man. The body of a young black girl about my age was found on the road in the park where we all played that same summer, and later that year John Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas. I didn’t know them, so it didn’t mean a lot to me. I remember being afraid of dying and having nightmares about being burned up in an atomic bomb explosion, but that was two years earlier, when I was in third grade and we practiced hiding under our desks at school so we wouldn’t go blind from the nuclear fallout. I was frightened that I wouldn’t have time to get to my school and under the safety of my desk when Kruchev’s Cuban missiles started coming down on us.
I don’t remember anyone else dying that I knew closely until high school. During my senior year, a girl named Mary who had MS put a gun in her mouth one weekend and pulled he trigger. She was my friend. I cried for several days not understanding, because she was a ‘good’ person. During my freshman year of college, the smartest kid I ever knew – our high school valedictorian – jumped from the roof of the tallest building on the campus of the University of Miami because the pressure of expectation was just too much for him.
That was 1972. I’ve known death vicariously since then. My Father-in-law, my Step-father, my Grandparents, my sister. Friends I went to school with, too. My high school best friend, the captain of he cheerleaders, a Pastor I knew well, friends from college and the man who founded the college.
I’ve had two strokes, either of which could have been, but for the grace of God, life threatening. Just last week I learned that my high school sweetheart had a heart attack. She had surgery to implant stents and now wears a defibrillator vest. She’s at home recovering.
My daughter was in an automobile accident. It totaled the car. She’s fine.
And suddenly I find myself reminded of the words of Scripture. I find myself reminded that I am, but for the grace of God, a single heartbeat from eternity, and while I am confident of where I will spend that eternity, I am somehow much less confident in my earthly mortality. And I am reminded yet again of the words of Jesus:
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”. (John 14:2-6)
As I finish these last thoughts, the thirtieth of thirty-three trapped Chilean miners is stepping out of the extraction capsule into the waiting arms of his family.
But for the grace of God…