Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. James 4:14
Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am. Psalm 39:4
Awhile back, I was watching a show on the MLB Network about the life of Torii Hunter, outfielder for the Detroit Tigers.
Speaking of playing the game of baseball, Hunter said:
It Doesn’t Last Long. You Gotta Enjoy This Game.
As an avid sports fan, I know Hunter is correct. I am old enough now to have seen thousands of players come and go. They enter the league with great fanfare and the talking heads on ESPN breathlessly talk about what we can hope to see from the latest and greatest five-tool player.
And just like that they are gone. Some play a few years, only to have their career ended by injury or the inability to a curve ball. Others go on to have long careers, and a few of them end up in the Hall of Fame.
Most of us will never play baseball at the Major League level. We will likely never see our names in lights or have a moment of fame. It is doubtful that we will be considered a“five-tool” player in our chosen profession. Most of us will live our lives in relative obscurity and then die. In a generation or two we will be forgotten, and the only time our name will be mentioned is when a descendent is working on their genealogy.
In the grand scheme of things we are but a speck of sand on an endless beach. Yet, while we are alive, while we are living in community with our family, friends, and neighbors, our inconsequential lives matter. What we do while we are living matters to the people we call family and friends. And sometimes we are given a grater sphere of influence and what we do matters to people far beyond our family and friends.
While Torii Hunter’s words were about baseball, I think they speak directly to human life in general.
The life we have doesn’t last long, and since this is the only life we will ever have, we better enjoy it. As a humanist, I do not look for new life beyond the grave, be it through Christian salvation or reincarnation. I am firmly convinced that the Apostle Paul was wrong when he said, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
Christianity taught me that life was meant to be endured. Life would have moments of blessing and joy, but, due to the sinfulness of humanity and the corruption of the world, generally life would be hard, full of pain and suffering. (which make us stronger and more fit for the afterlife.) If we endure this life and stay true to Jesus heaven awaits us. The Apostle Paul said, he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
The Christian claim of a pain-free, suffering-free, eternal afterlife has great appeal. Most of us do not relish the fact that we are going to die some day. There is a drive within us that says, like the Petra song If I Had to Die for Someone:
I keep away from falling rocks and I don’t play with matches
I lock the door I don’t know why
It seems to me I’m much too old to wear a scarf out in the cold but
I want to live until I die
I guess I love my life a little more than I should love it
And if I had to I don’t know if I could
Lay it down
I want to live until I die. Even the Christian, for all their talk of the afterlife and heaven, wants to live as long of a life as possible. This is a poignant reminder that, Christian or not, we all are pretty much the same. We crave life. We struggle and fight until we can do so no longer. Simply put, we want to live.
As much as I wish there was a room waiting for me in God’s Mansion in the Sky, I know there is not. As much as I wish that Jesus has returned to Heaven to prepare a place for me, I know his bones are buried in a Judean grave. As much as I want to see my family and friends who have already died, I know that the only place I will ever see them is in my memories of them and the life we shared together.
Wanting something to be true, like life beyond the grave and blissful, eternal life in the Sweet By and By , does not make it so. While I readily admit that the power of religion lies in its promise of eternal life in heaven, as an earthy-humanist, I know, based on the evidence at my disposal, that such claims are not likely true. The power of religion lies not in the truth of its claims but in the hope it gives to its followers. Humanism offers no such hope. We live, we die, end of story.
Instead of a hope of heaven, humanism forces me to embrace life as it is rather than what I hope it will or might be. Instead of waiting for a big payout at the betting window in the sky I am confronted with the reality the bets I make in this life are paid out in this life. This is it.And it is for this reason that Hunter’s words ring true.
Before I know it, this life will be over. I am fifty-six years old. I am the proud owner of a broken-down body that is ever-so-slowly dying. I have no illusions of living to one-hundred. If I live until I am seventy-five I will consider myself blessed.
Seventy-five is nineteen years away. When I was a twenty-one year old man, a recently married man and a soon-to-be father, twenty years seemed like an eternity. Yet, here I am thirty-five years later, still married to the beautiful woman of my youth, father to six children, and grandfather to eight. In but a blink of an eye…
Neil Armstrong died last year. I vividly remember watching on TV Armstrong’s walk on the Moon. What a thrilling, captivating moment, one I have never forgotten. I was twelve when Armstrong’s feat captivated the world. Forty-forty years ago.
Awhile back, my dear friend Dave Echler stopped by to see me. As I sit here typing this my mind wanders back to Dave and I walking up Mulberry Street to school. We were nine. Forty-seven years ago. Lifetime friends, we are, and one of us, and I hope it is Dave, will one day stand over the casket of the other, and weep tears of goodbye.
Since each of us only get one life we might as well try to enjoy it. Far too often we allow ourselves to get caught up in things that don’t matter. Like all aging people, I spend significant time contemplating not only the past but my present life and what I want the future to be. What do I want to do with the remaining moments of my life? Since we are usually known for what we did last, what do I want people’s last impression of me to be? When the epitaph of my life is written what will be said?
Above anything that might be said about my life, I want it to be said that I loved my wife, my family, my friends, my neighbors, and the world I lived in. I want to be remembered as a man who loved life regardless of the pain and suffering life brought his way. I want to be remembered as a person who was always there when those who mattered to him needed him.
I want my grandkids to remember the fun times we had. As my one granddaughter said, when asking if she could spend the night, Grandpa always says yes, I want to be remembered as that kind of Grandfather. I want my grandchildren to remember me always being willing to listen to the non-stop questions they asked about this or that.
The other day, one of my granddaughters asked, what did your Dad look like Grandpa? I took her to the picture of my Dad that hangs on the bedroom wall. She looked at it, said thanks, and back she went to playing Barbies.
My Dad died twenty-six years ago. My Mom died twenty-two years ago. My Dad’s parents died almost fifty years ago. My Mom’s parents died eighteen years ago and thirteen years ago. My grandkids and many of my children never got to know their great grandparents and great-great grandparents. All they have are the memories I pass on to them.
When my children sit around the table someday with their own grown children and their own grandchildren, what stories will they share of their Dad whose ashes they scattered on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan?
I hope, in the mix of the crazy stories they will surely tell, they will remind their children and children’s children that Dad believed life was worth living and that he loved them until the end.
The Apostle Paul wrote:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
reposted, revised, updated