While having breakfast at a restaurant, I pulled out a jar of vegemite. For those who don’t know, it’s a salty black yeast extract with a strong taste that Americans usually don’t appreciate. I spread it on the toast before lifting on the over-medium eggs. Please don’t laugh……this is the way my dad taught me in Australia. And I love it this way. My curious friend asked me how old was the vegemite. When I looked at the label it said 2002. I had no idea. She burst out laughing, pointed out the vegemite was 12 years old, and wondered if it had ever made me sick.
My brother sent me an old photo of us four brothers sitting around a campfire. I must have been twenty-five or thereabouts. Now I am a gray nomad. What happened to all the years? To say the years have flown seems a good metaphor. I am now into the last third of my life.
Life is fleeting. Like the Bible says, life is like a weed which grows quickly, flowers, then dies away. As a gray nomad I can see this now, but never fully appreciated it before. What happened to all the years? I am suddenly motivated to do a quick assessment. What have I done with time? Looking backward, have I wasted time? Not very often. Been pretty goal-oriented and focused most of my life. Check this box. How much of my time have I tried to help others, which seems quite important to me now? Partial at best. Looking back, I see a lot of self-centered drive which got in the way. Only half a check in this box.
This is short-time stuff, which we all have to deal with. But what about longer times…. what do they tell us? Added below in the Post-script are two examples from longer times. First is mid-time, taken from the life of a group of the ancient Puebloan peoples who lived in New Mexico around 1100 A.D. Second is long-time, and the example is a fascinating fossil from Africa which lived about 100 million years ago.
Jumping to the summary:
• The examples confirm indisputably that a human life-time is just a wisp of grass in the time-scale of the earth….. let alone the cosmos which we haven’t even talked about. The 100 million year age of the ammonite fossil seems like an eternity to us. Could this be why the Bible talks so much about eternal life? After all, God ought to have the right perspective on this subject.
When Jesus talked about eternal life, he made it seem quite important too. It’s clear the apostles accepted this because most of them gave up their lives in the cause of the eternal life. So maybe the Bible is on to something in directing us toward eternal life, knowing that life goes on vastly longer than our brief life-time down here.
• “Carpe diem” means “Seize the day” or more literally “Pluck the day as it is ripe” from a poem by Horace in 23 B.C. A true understanding of the brevity of our lives can motivate us not to waste it or worry unduly over it. The modern concept of Mindfulness is an excellent way to learn to appreciate our present situation in its fullness (and also a recognized way to reduce stress).
• If we agree that life is not all about us, we also have “Opem sperare de aliquo”. This reminds us to be alert for folks who are hurting, and to be proactive to lend a hand, because we really don’t have much life-time in which to do this. But it’s never too late. The words are Latin and mean “Help someone to hope”.
• It may be high time we considered the end-time, when Jesus is prophesied to return to the earth. In fact in the last four years there has been a prominent convergence of spiritual events that would seem to point to a soon return. Now is a good time to size up our life’s priorities against this possibility!
Post-Script: Mid-Time and Long-Time
Last weekend a group of about twenty of us hiked into an isolated canyon north and west of ABQ. Lots of green grass and enormous yellow pines. The final quarter-mile stretch (whew!) was up the canyon side with a grade of 35%. At the top we were transfixed by a Puebloan ruin called Nogales Cliffhouse which appeared to be cemented into a cave and quite inaccessible. Members of the Gallina culture, the ancients could only have reached their homes by using some kind of ladder. By pulling up the ladder they would have been protected from invading tribes.
We gazed at a few pictographs of flying birds painted on the sandstone: ducks or geese or cranes? And pondered what it would have been like living here over 700 years ago. To walk down that grade of 35% to the main canyon to retrieve water or hunt or attend crops of beans and squash and corn, and then back up to their homes carrying a heavy load, would have been exhausting.
Finally, the people were wiped out around 1275 A.D. Many of the Gallina burials show signs of violent death, as if their culture was being systemically extinguished. Either genocide by an invading tribe, or by suicide. This date was near the end of a 100-year drought, which would have brought on all sorts of stress. The image of the silent death-ruin with its obliterated memories still haunts me.
Post-Post-Script: More on Carpe Diem
In Horace, the phrase is part of the longer “Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero”, which can be translated as “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow (the future)”.
The ode says that the future is unforeseen and that one should not leave to chance future happenings, but rather one should do all one can today to make one’s future better. The meaning of Carpe diem is not to ignore the future, not to trust that everything is going to fall into place for you, but instead take action today for the future.
The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers……
For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls away. (1 Peter 1:23-25).
The grass withers, the flower fades: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. (Isaiah 40:7-9).
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