Several years ago, the first of a series of unwanted medical diagnoses intersected her life and changed her circumstances, as such news tends to do. The original malignancies were overcome, but the unwanted visitor has now returned and taken up residence in her brain.
In the past several years, it has dawned on me repeatedly that life seems to get sadder as I get older. Like many aspects of this earthly journey, there’s an emotional, psychological counterpart to the physical entropy we all experience as the birthdays accumulate.
As I held Mrs. R’s hand, recalled some common memories, and helped her sip a shake, it occurred to me that maybe it is more accurate to frame it differently. There is sadness, of course. Life as we know it now is not how it was originally intended to be, when man inhabited the Garden where he heard “the sound of the Lord God walking …in the cool of the day” [Gen. 3:8]. The Fall, which is the pivot referenced whenever scholars talk about “prelapsarian” and “postlapsarian” history, is the origin of human sadness. If not for that, everything would be so unimaginably different.
But perhaps it is, finally, not so significant that life gets undeniably sadder. More to the point, it gets more real. As in what is really Real. The veils that obscure temporal life from eternity are peeled back with greater frequency. I’ve heard scoffers maintain that all it amounts to is ‘falling off the barge’—to be crass about it-- and into oblivion. They think this in part, I suspect, because they don’t want to be accountable and refuse to countenance the Truth they cannot change.
Quite a few years ago, I sought temporary refuge from my feuding preschoolers in the basement laundry room of our first home. The tumbling of the dryer was more soothing to a young mom’s nerves than tiny men squawking and bickering. Craving adult “conversation”, I had tuned into a Christian radio station and heard a man say things that hit me between the eyes.
Those were moments of transforming clarity for me. The statement that echoes in my mind even today, and which constitutes one of the lynchpins of my life view, goes as follows:
“This life is a walk toward eternity.”*
[*David Shibley.Ultimate Success.New Leaf Press, 1994.]
That handful of words expressed ultimate reality. Like selecting “Solution” on the pull-down menu of some computer games, formerly disparate components tumbled together into a whole. Answers to some pesky quandaries came into focus:
-“This life…” – we’re in it, but it’s not the ‘whole show’
-“…is a walk…” – it’s not static, it’s not a destination, it is a journey, a course progressing somewhere
-“…toward eternity.” – there is a purpose, afterall.
We’re destined, like it or not, to be somewhere Entirely Other. Or, as the British express it, we’re all going to “go elsewhere!”
In this sense, progress into the latter part of life is a matter of it getting more Real. When someone cuts us off in traffic, we don’t usually count that as a highlight of the journey, or a step toward understanding the ‘grand scheme.’ But when you stroke the cheek of a dying believer, or feel their fingers loosen around your own as the day’s strength ebbs away, you realize you’re touching someone’s “jar of clay” that will soon yield up its eternal treasure; and who they Really Are will enter the presence of the Lord, where
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"-- [I Corinthians 2:9]
That's the Real deal.