15 October 2011

How to Face the End Like a Man


She said it like it was a matter of fact. “No matter what we do, even if we started today, the environment will burn out inside fifty years.” I didn’t want to be hearing this at the moment; late afternoon is the low point of my biorhythmic day. My throat felt tight. My shoulders, tense. I was quiet for a bit. Fifty years? I thought. What does that mean?

“Really?” I said to my wife. “I’m not sure that’s credible. I mean, where did your friend get that from? There’s a lot of misinformation flying around nowadays.” It was true. From movies like 2012 to billboard predictions of Armageddon, we are well supplied with speculative certainties about our date of expiration.

Yet it was too late; I was already doing the math. The sound of our boys laughing in the playground faded away. How old would our little ones be in 50 years? Would I be a grandfather? A great-grandfather? If this were true, would I still be here to hold my sons’ hands when everything goes dark? And what about now? What does it mean to live fifty years before the end of the world?

It means that my generation is the last to live into old age. It means that I am raising my boys... to die. How much better to have been born in an earlier time, say, the 1920’s, when you could know that your kids would have the chance to live out their lives after you! Or, better yet, the 1600’s, when there was still so much time to think and explore and create, when Bach was learning the fugue and Galileo was discovering Jupiter’s moons, when a few centuries of open air still remained before the lid on the box would slam shut.

No, better still to have lived in the age of the Greeks, the seed of civilization’s flowering, from which there would sprout poetry and philosophy and athletics, like the petals of a lotus. This was a time when a man could place his hand on the smooth, cool bark of a sycamore tree, and know that even the children of that tree would have time enough to live.

But it was no good. There is no escaping the end. No matter how far back into the centuries I may fling myself, the irresistible gravity of time will pull me back into this moment and beyond, spiraling toward some future end. How, then, shall I live?

“I guess I can forget about doing something that will be remembered through the ages,” I said to myself. I hadn’t suspected such a thing was important to me, but here I was, crossing it off my list of viable motivations.

What then? I glanced at my wife, loving how the sun brings out her freckles. The boys were on the teeter-totter. And something occurred to me. People. That’s what’s worth caring about and living for in these moments that are left.

Can I use these moments to make my sons smile, to make love to my wife, to give her a massage, even when I don’t feel like it? Can I give the same kindnesses that were given by my Lord before his candle was blown out? He was afraid, just like I am. But he resisted despair and sought strength from his Father. He stayed fixed on the particulars: healing the ear of Malchus, taking the thief’s confession, providing for his mother.

Can I do this? Can I step into the present with my eyes on the particulars: the son that needs wrestling, the wife that needs talking, the friend that needs praying? Can I face the end like a man? Can I live the way that I should have been living, even if the world’s time and mine were infinite? Of course I can. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. And so can you.




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