On Saturday the 14th, Kim and I were in Stone Mountain, GA, a suburb of Atlanta and the city where I grew up, to attend the funeral of the father of one of my high school friends. We were spending the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday weekend together without our children, who were off on a church youth retreat. With no urgency to get home, we decided to drive to Decatur for a late lunch after paying our respects.
We sat in the outdoor area of Leon’s Full Service and enjoyed a meal and a beer (Wild Heaven, of course). As we sat and talked, my eyes frequently looked across the street at the four story building where my father once practiced law from his corner office, about 30 years ago. Having begun at a funeral in my hometown and moved on to a meal on the city square where I many times visited my dad as he worked or met him for lunch, my mind was already drifting off into thoughts of the past, even while trying to give my wife my full attention. Our time there was brief, and we soon headed back to Bishop on Highway 78, past the towns of Tucker, where I went to high school, Stone Mountain, Snellville, where my mother lived after my parents divorced, and on down this familiar road from Decatur to Athens.
Unseasonably warm weather allowed us to put the windows down in our family-oriented Toyota van, and, prior to dozing off to dangerously leave me alone with my thoughts, Kim put on a Journey playlist. Only the Young, Faithfully, Open Arms, Send Her My Love and, yes, Don’t Stop Believin’. The songs came alive and brought me back inside Wilma, my first car, a copper-colored (or was it rust? I honestly never knew) Nissan 200SX with a stereo of 600 watts pumping into nearly as many speakers. I pictured myself listening to those same songs as I cruised that same area, but I wondered what thoughts they would have evoked. Plans for the coming weekend. Friends. Spring break and Summer. College and what I would do when I left home. Not much about school, frankly. Not then. I was having too much fun. Whatever I may have been thinking about as I listened then to those songs, like so many young, I was consumed with the future. I thought I would live forever. With no concern for eternity.
As my mind drifts back, I confess there is a certain longing. Not for who I was but for the freedom. The feeling that now was the moment prior to unlimited possibilities. These days the future feels more uncertain, and I tend to withdraw inwardly, even with company, nostalgia eliciting feelings akin to sadness.
Cruising now, I turn to look at my wife and wonder what future she imagines. She has been at my side or in waiting rooms throughout this near 4 year battle with cancer. But strangely, picturing two slumping soldiers in a trench, life threatened, facing tough odds, we never ask the question “what are we going to do when this war ends?”
In my darker moments I fear my wife imagining life without the burden of taking care of me. I imagine her life without me. Having known her for almost 30 years, I’m aware of so many of her youthful dreams unfulfilled having chosen a family life with me, not that she professes any regrets. But, if I’m not around, what paths will she take that she had once avoided because they weren’t suited for my companionship? And of course there would be new companionship. Of course. And I’m content with this. I will always want her to be happy. Just not happier. I have never been a good dancer, while she is one to watch, and suffice to say, chemotherapy hasn’t improved my coordination. Will there be a smile I’ve never seen in the arms of another on some distant dance floor?
When she awakes, we sit in silence and listen to the music. I work up the bravery to ask: “what future do you imagine?” She responds by saying that she, like me, is focused on survival, personal plans not reaching past the following year, making provision for the futures of our children. That means school, sports, work, and vacations. Friends and family. Normal life as best as we can make it.
Here at mid-life, we know we won’t live forever, and often it seems we are living in a small window of time that is extended only by doctor’s permission, based on the results of impersonal examinations like CT scans and bloodwork. So we don’t talk much about downsizing to the smaller home when the kids are grown, where we could walk together to a market or our favorite restaurant. Instead, we rest in the gift of eternal life, and look forward to the future of futures, after we both depart from this world, however far apart in time that happens. In comparison, all plans are ultimately short term anyway, and we are helping each other live now in that limitless reality.
It may be that there are other arms for her embrace in her future here. There will be other arms for me, too, in heaven. And the arms of Jesus will provide the comfort to end all suffering and bring the peace we so long for. She has His arms to look forward to as well and knows that mine or any other, though loving and meant to provide these same benefits, just can’t; I’m not Jesus. But for the time here, I endeavor to use them working with my family, as we’re called, in the dirt1. Tilling, planting, cultivating, and watching things grow. Yes, there are and will be weeds, but, as followers of Christ, we place our hope in the promise that somehow all things are working toward our good, and we continue on in faith in anticipation of a great harvest.
So, as someone who believes he is still young on eternity’s scale, life still has unlimited possibilities, especially in that place called Heaven. Of course, no one knows what it looks like to pass over, but I picture a great host along the road that leads to the mythical gates. A chorus of hosannas ring out, not just for those approaching, but shared with the One who triumphed and made our entry possible2. And if I’m there first and the wife of my youth arrives, I hope to be the one that opens the gate for her, holds the door as she passes through, and meets our Lord. Perhaps I can even make the introductions. And then show her around. That’s my plan.
By the way, the picture is from mine and Kim’s second date. 1988 Tucker High School Prom.
1 Genesis 3:17-19 (ESV): 17And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground,for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
2 Mark 11:9-10 (ESV): 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”