Journey’s End

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
    and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 (NIV)

I remember driving to northwest Iowa while I was still a young man to spend some time with my grandfather. He was well into his nineties, and living in a care facility. It was the last time I remember being with him. We walked the hallways together, me pushing him in his wheelchair. We sat at a table in the common room and had “coffee time.” We talked together, though it was obvious that dementia was beginning to set in. He would sharing a story with me and I would suddenly realize that he was addressing me as a stranger, an acquaintance. In the moment, I it was obvious he didn’t remember who I was. Nevertheless, he was still relatively sharp and was able to articulate his thoughts and feelings.

“I’m the only one left,” he said with sadness as he stared out the window. “Every one I knew is already gone.”

My grandfather was not known for his silence. The man could weave a tapestry of stories and talk non-stop for hours and he was happy to do so for any stranger who would listen. I’m not exaggerating. I have clear memories of tugging gently on his arm and trying to help free some poor, anonymous housewife in the baking goods aisle who was nodding vacantly as my grandfather regaled her with stories about his ice-box cookies that won a blue ribbon at the Plymouth County fair.

“The secret is getting the cookies sliced nice and thin, but they have to be evenly sliced. The best way to do that is….”

“Come on, Grandpa. We’ve got to check-out and get back home,” I’d say as I silently mouthed an “I’m sorry” to the gracious stranger.

I have many memories of feeling the non-verbal signals of impatience from family members and friends who were trapped in the torrent of grandpa’s stories.

On this final afternoon with him, however, I remember long periods of silence as we sat together. The shift in him was obvious to me. He was in the homestretch of his earthly journey.

He felt spent, and alone.

I drove home that evening meditating on many things. It was one of the first times I recall really observing the weariness of life in an elderly person whom I’d once known in the fullness of life’s vigor.

I was reminded of that afternoon as I read today’s final chapter of Ecclesiastes. The ancient Hebrew Sage concludes his treatise of wisdom by penning a poem that beautifully describes the weariness of life one experiences when the end of the earthly journey is a long, slow descent to dust.

“Remember the Creator in your youth,” the poem begins.

Remember the Creator before you find your life spent, and alone,” the poem ends.

The sage then reminds me of where his wise discourse began: this earthly journey is a fleeting fog, a flitting vapor, a transient mist.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the reality that I’m not much younger than my grandfather was when I was born. I am in the same stage of life’s vigor that I remember in my earliest memories of my grandfather.

I began this journey through Ecclesiastes stating that the Sage’s theme was not about the futility of this earthly life, but really about what’s valuable in this earthly life. Here at the end of his dissertation, I still feel it. In fact, I feel it more acutely.

I am reminded by Wisdom to live my life backwards. I find myself prodded to begin each day, to live each day, to reflect on each day with the journey’s end in mind.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

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