numbering days, lifting turkeys
So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
It's Friday, and I'm nearly to my day-off destination, a place I go sometimes to breathe fir, pray, and write. Sometimes good things happen there, like meeting God in very tangible ways as the beauty of the forest, or the silence, or the prayer pierces me and I know, with Julian of Norwich that all's well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
Encounter, though, doesn't need silence and fir to pierce our clueless armor and wake us up to the bigger picture. For example...
I pull into the Safeway parking lot, halfway to the writing cabin, because I have some banking to do and my bank lives in a grocery store rather than having it's own place to call home. Having finished my busywork, I place three apples in a basket and proceed to the checkout line. The shortest one still has a person with many items to be processed, so I sigh, and stand with my apples. As I approach the credit card 'swiping machine', a voice from behind says,
"Excuse me, could you hand me one of those?" A elegant, well dressed, woman of definitely old age points to one of those dividing bars, so vital to the prevention of any one of us ever buying something for another person. I place it on the conveyor belt, and for some reason, as she says thank you, our eyes meet. When they do, lots of things begin to happen in my soul.
I don't know if it's because my cousin died of a heart attack this week at 56, or because my wife is down at the funeral, caring for my own definitely old mom, or if it was the conversation this morning between my wife and I about other family members in California who are on the far end of aging. I don't know. But I begin to feel, in that moment, profoundly, the brevity of life, and the importance of living each day well.
I saw that she had those classic little oranges in her cart, the kind that come in a box and are easy to peel. "3.99" she said, her smiling even brighter; "cheapest price in town". I know. I've checked." I suddenly need a box, and so step behind her and do an impulse buy to help the sagging economy.
"I love these" I say, mindful that guests will be in our house soon and these will all be eaten.
"Turkey's cheap too" the checker says, hoping I'll keep buying.
Then my new elderly friend says, "they're too big. I can't lift them into the oven any longer." She can still drive, walk, shop, smile, tell jokes, check prices. But she can't lift a turkey into her oven. Is she having thanksgiving alone? Is there no strong grandson to lift the turkey? My curiosity grows, but I've paid and I walk away.
"My God; life is short" I say to myself as I walk to the car, pondering how strange it is that we squander our days, often allowing lust, or bitterness, or boredom to prevail, as if we own endless units of them, kind of a Bill Gates of chronology. But we don't. Soon we can't lift our turkey. By then, we'll have known great joys and laughter, great losses and sufferings; all of will. Trying to live in such a way that we are insulated from the latter is like trying to live on brownies and chips - we can't do it, so we may as well not even try.
More important than how much suffering or joy is the deeper question: Have we lived well? For we who follow Christ, that question is not about how many notches I've carved into some evangelistic salvation belt, for even the great Paul would tell us that this matters little. What does matter though is whether or not God has found some freedom to express His heart through us - so that generosity and justice, peace and celebration, forgiveness and mercy, are spilled into the world through us.
Such things will only happen, not by us trying hard to create 'spillable' moments, but by developing the right kinds of habits to slowly but inexorably become more like Jesus. As that happens, our walking, sleeping, eating, working, and yes, even checking out of our groceries, might testify of God's character in some small or large way. That is a life well lived.
Many who read this blog are far younger then me, so perhaps none of this resonates. But I'm increasingly mindful that I only have days: 'x' number of them. I pray that I'll use mine well, because someday, sooner than I'd like, my turkey will be too heavy.