Notre Dame on fire ...
I went to my 50-year high-school reunion, the one we all thought would be forever from now. Well, forever just showed up. Walked through the door cocky as you please and said, “Remember me? The future?”
Fiftieth high-school reunions—and I suppose to a lesser extent 40th, and even 30threunions—are retrospective. They have glimpsed the limits of human achievement and are in varying degrees of coming to terms with it. (My cousin once said to me about her young adult children’s prospects, “I keep lowering my expectations.”)
I do not say the same of fifth or 10th reunions. I am sure that five and 10 years after graduating, people are still gazing up at their Mount Everests, and not down at the sloped descent.
Hard to tell where the exact point comes that the truth finally dawns. But it dawns. And then, what should have been learned from generations immemorial hits like a brand-new discovery—that even among the most accomplished, once their lives are done they can be summarized on a 3-by-5 index card: married; had three children; ran a Fortune 500 company; “passed away after a heroic battle with cancer.”
Don’t go gentle into that good night, for you may find it not so good.
(Aaron Sorkin commencement address joke: “Two newborn babies are lying side-by-side in a hospital nursery and they glance at each other. Ninety years later, through a remarkable coincidence, the two are lying side-by-side in the same hospital room. They look at each other and one of them says, ‘So whatja think?’”)
Someone suggested we all go around the room and tell what we’ve been up to for 50 years (there were 19 women, so it was doable). This kind of instantaneous triage of experience calls for wisdom only God and angels have—to sift through decades and select what was important. Dictates of convention make it easier: list spouses, kids, and job history.
And then, the most remarkable thing happened, the thing I had been hoping and praying for since the reunion invitation came in the mail in June. It so happened that the very first person selected to speak used her time to say how God had met her on Dec. 13, 1981, in a deadly industrial accident that took her to the very portals of heaven and hell and back, for a life-transforming encounter with “the Lord.” Where I grew up, God was not known as “the Lord.” From across the room I clapped and said, “Amen,” excited in my spirit.
Thereupon followed the more predictable litanies: marriages; children; divorces; careers stumbled into accidentally; the pleasures of retirement. Some ran long, so when it came to my turn I said only that “I was lost and God found me and pulled me out of a pit, turned me from darkness to light. He is the living God.” “Do you have any kids?” someone called out, feeling slighted of the essential bio. “Four, and two grandchildren,” I complied, somewhat deflated.
I have mixed feelings about Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Is the ending for “the boy” a welcome rest from labor, or is it the last temptation? What a cruel soothing delusion the devil whispers to the disappointed lifelong chaser of fantasies: “I don’t need very much now, just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.”
Oh, but you do need something! The thing you needed all along! Don’t go gentle into that good night, for you may find it not so good. Shake off a deadly resignation and choose Christ!
There are lots of ways to be lost and only one way to be saved. You can be lost by living for pleasure (“She who is truly a widow … has set her hope on God … but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives”—1 Timothy 5:5-6). You can be lost by living for your grandchildren’s holiday visits (“men of the world whose portion is in this life. ... They are satisfied with children”—Psalm 17:14).
Today is the day of salvation (Hebrews 3:7-8). You haven’t missed the boat; it’s boarding now. All pasts may be redeemed by this day’s final choice, and “better is the end of a thing than its beginning” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).