13 April 2014

Funerals and living

My brother died and was buried on the first day of US spring. He was a fighter to the end as liver cancer beat him. Although it could be said that he drank himself to his grave, my sister wanted to say that he insisted on living life like Sinatra: his way. Death and life... what do they have to do with each other?

The rabbi gave a wonderful eulogy, of a person she'd never met. Her text is here. Eulogy 

My friend Tom was in attendance at the funeral and I handed him my camera to shoot some stills. He did a great job and the photos are here on my Flickr page

As a result of Michael's passing, I have been grieving for the last few weeks, saying Kaddish, wearing my black torn ribbon, pondering what it all means. Death is seriously part of life.

My brother had no relationship with his family for about 50 years. Oh sure he'd attend to various required moments and at brief times even seem to enjoy them, but his distancing himself from life as we knew it in the 1950s and 1960s in suburban Kansas City, in an Orthodox Jewish home, in black and white normalcy, was apparent to all who knew him. Don't get me wrong; he wanted to live his life out loud. He married twice. He had a family in California with whom he had no relationship for decades. He had a son from his second wife with whom he 'was tight' but who had not been home in over four years. He didn't even know he was a great grandfather, three times!

But then the pain in his hip was unbearable. He went last June to a doctor in KC and they found his body was suffering from Stage 4 Liver Cancer. Immediately Michael met death in the face. He was terminal. And if that be so, then how shall he die, and how shall he live?

As if the clock turned back to 1963, Michael became familiar again. He still had too many dress-up clothes, like 15 pairs of suspenders and suits he hadn't worn in years, but he reached out to and welcomed family contact. His daughters reconnected with him; his son came back twice in the 10 months until he passed. My time with him was renewed. I saw and spent time with him three times, in July, October and January. Those times were immeasurable. They were great. 

I wanted so much for him to say "Yes" to living in faith in the living God and in His Son Yeshua who died for him. I wanted Michael to encounter eternity in the person of Messiah, but that wasn't what Michael wanted.  I wanted him to read the Bible I gave him, and to be fair, he did glance at it a bit. Eternity is not mine to judge or oversee, and for that determination we await the Master's voice.

But in this transitory life, Michael found living again. Death is part of life. He didn't break relationships; he welcomed them again.  I'm glad for our final days together. I'm glad for his kindnesses to our sister especially. She served him tirelessly to the end as she had done with our parents in their days which ended a decade before.

Michael's life was much more than these photos of his life.

His was a hard life. His was a 68-year life.

Moses, the leader of the Jewish people 3,500 years ago, wrote a psalm. Most of the psalms in our Bible were written by King David 500 years later, but Moses wrote one of them. We call it Psalm 90.  In verse 3, we read of life's endings, "You turn man back into dust and say, 'Return, O children of men.' " As for the endings of our days, they usually are fadings, turning the lights out. Moses says of it, "We have finished our years like a sigh."  And in verse 12, the key is found. What does it all mean for us, who remain alive, who have a lot of living to do? "So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom."

That's it. Knowing that all of us are terminal should help us number our days, to make the most of the days in which we find ourselves. Now there are two ways to ponder and deal with this. We can 'live for today' with a 'devil-may-care' attitude and live as if there is no tomorrow. We can plunder savings accounts, cast off restraints, and fuggetaboutit all. But that's not what I mean.

Horace's famous "carpe diem" is not what I'm recommending. His quote is here: "Ask not—we cannot know—what end the gods have set for you, for me; nor attempt the Babylonian reckonings LeuconoĆ«. How much better to endure whatever comes, whether Jupiter grants us additional winters or whether this is our last, which now wears out the Tuscan Sea upon the barrier of the cliffs! Be wise, strain the wine; and since life is brief, prune back far-reaching hopes! Even while we speak, envious time has passed: pluck the day (carpe diem), putting as little trust as possible in tomorrow!"

In that famous ode, Horace seems to be recommending to urge us to embrace the pleasures available in everyday life instead of relying on remote aspirations for the future. Green Day sing "Carpe Diem" and their words "Getting off a binge; get a second wind" remind me that some see 'oh well, there's no tomorrow, let's party" as the answer. But that's not the best.

Think of Eleanor Roosevelt's quote, "The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” The carpe diem style of Thoreau comes out in his “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”

I even liked what AA Milne wrote when Winnie the Pooh asked “What day is it?" "It's today," squeaked Piglet. "My favorite day," said Pooh.”

So, death is part of life. When we are met with death, we have choices to make. Live as if there is no tomorrow, or live in making the best of today because there might not be a tomorrow. The nuance is subtle; the differences are monumental.

Eminem is no hero of mine. I don't listen to his songs, but this one which focuses on the nonsense of his rise to fame and the madness of people on so many levels, from police to parents to attorneys to the youth who listen and worship him and his songs caught my eye today. He says, "That's why we seize the moment try to freeze it and own it, squeeze it and hold it Cause we consider these minutes golden. And maybe they'll admit it when we're gone Just let our spirits live on, through our lyrics that you hear in our songs and we can...

Sing with me, sing for the year
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me now, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away"

This carpe diem reflection is exactly NOT what I'm saying. You do have a life to live. Make the best of it. Live today as if there were no tomorrow, not without care, but with great care. Live today because it's the best day you've got. Serve people. Serve God. Learn something. Give something. Dance, sing, enjoy... of course. At your own expense, not theirs.

Yeshua said it this way, "Seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6.33-34)  Let's serve others; let's make today count. And when tomorrow comes and we wake up in eternity, we can thank God that His purposes were met. That will be the most satisfying day of all.

Sounds like Moses. "Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom."

Death is part of OUR life. Let's make the best day ever. Today. 

3 comments:

Thad May said...

Such wisdom, such thoughtful words. I learned something about Psalm 90 today. Thanks for sharing them with us Bob.

Thad May said...

Such wisdom, such thoughtful words. I learned something about Psalm 90 today. Thanks for sharing them with us Bob.

Pam said...

Thinking of you and your family..Thank you for sharing your thoughts and perspective.