Robin and I decided to take a different route than we usually do for out morning walk today. We typically walk along the river and down below the bluff, but today we decided to head in the direction of the city cemetery. Perhaps a little strange, but we never claimed to be normal. We discovered that it is not the place for a brisk morning walk.
Parts of the cemetery are very old, dating back to the mid nineteenth century. The oldest tomb stone we saw was dated 1835. Looking over the acres of hills covered with markers of all shapes and sizes I was struck with the brevity of life. Each of these short epitaphs was the simulation of a life. “Thy will be done” was a rather common phrase, as was the eloquent “for of such is the kingdom of Heaven”, carved in stone as a memorial of a lost child. For many of these people, this is the only mark that they leave on the world. They are forgotten, and the vases that loving family had graven into the headstones are empty. Than there where the ones that where so weather beaten that their inscription is no longer even legible. How sad, to be forgotten by all that walk the earth.
Yet each one of these where once just as alive are I am right now. They had their petty cares and worries, their triumphs and defeats, and their joys and their sorrows. Was life was sweet to them, as it is to me, and did death seem almost unreal and avoidable to the last? Often, in our heart of hearts I think that we who live think that we shall cheat death, but in the end she will not be thwarted. Each lives the days allotted to him, than when his Maker sees fit, he takes away their breath and they die. Reflecting on the brevity of live I think with the Psalmist “what is man that Thou art mindful of him?”
This is what I see from the vantage point of this earth, and if that where all I had, I would despair. I would say with the Teacher “Vanity, all is vanity!” for indeed, all seems vain. Pleasure, pain, joy and wisdom, what does it profit? All die. We are dust and we shall return to dust. None that come after shall even remember that we ever even existed, except perhaps to comment on the merit of our epitaph. As the Romans commonly had it, “non fui, fui, non sum, non caro” “I was not, I was, I am not, I care not.” Who cares? Life is pointless, death is pointless.
But I know better. I know that when we sleep the sleep of death we shall wake to life eternal. That is beyond comprehension. In Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale the Little Mermaid longs for an immortal soul. The first time I read that I was struck- the soul that lives forever is a gift. And what a gift! Yet it is also a great responcability.
We walked through that Jewish section and I wondered, what happened to these people who rejected their Messiah in life? It is sobering. For all these, Christian, Jew and Atheist, it is to late. Their die is cast and they have chosen their path. They have met their Maker, the Just and the Merciful. What urgency this should give us! Life is passing by! It is precious and it is short. There are lost souls that will spend eternity, not beneath the earth is oblivion, but in a place where the fire is never quenched. May God have mercy on them and may he use me as a tool to bring them in to His kingdom.
I did not intend to get quite that somber. But I suppose that the subject of death lends itself to solemnity by its very nature. But our conversation this morning was melancholy, but not really somber. We spoke of the sadness of dieing with neither children nor deeds to carry on your name. We spoke of those who came before us, whose flesh blood we are. We spoke of the colossal tragedy of abortion, which claims the lives of so many. We where struck by the frailty of man, and his smallness. We each think that the universe revolves around us, and it doesn’t. We think that we are really something, don’t we? But we’re not. But yet, for all man’s seeming insignificance, the Creator and Master of all that is and ever shall be became one of us and saved us from ourselves. What grace!
In conclusion, I leave you with the self-written epitaph of Ben Franklin and a quote from Poor Richards Almanac:
(Like the cover of an old book
Its contents torn out
And stript of its lettering and gilding)
Lies here, food for worms.
But the work shall not be lost
For it will (as he believed) appear once more
In a new and more elegant edition
Revised and corrected
If you would not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worth reading,
Or do things worth the writing.