Saturday, June 1, 2013
Part #2: Receding for God
Once a career, but twice in diapers, however the second time around often leads down to dementia and always to demise, where we humans lose all our learning and skills and achievement so diligently accomplished. Gone with the leaving...barren winter approaching, white and none.
But why? All that work gone and us receding physically, and worst of all mentally…So despairing like Poe spoke of in his hauntingly powerful meditation on loss and death.*
What a tragic losing, often, pathetic, indeed absurd lessening…
Again, for what purpose?
There seems none. Over 2,500 years ago, Qoheleth, (“Gatherer”) in the pessimistic Jewish book of Ecclesiastes (“Qoheleth”) concluded, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”, “Vapor of vapor, all is vapor” (a more literal translation of the Hebrew). Sometimes this seems more accurate than the hopefulness of Paul’s Philippians’’ “Rejoice always.”
In the end, Life will leave us breathless...all our accomplishments a transient vapor.
Without serious doubt this is why biblical faith and vision brings hope to many of us in the midst of this life’s worst, when Jesus speaks of God’s everlasting love for all of us, every single human, every last one, and that we can have trust in God’s promise to bring us into glory. Revelation 21; 3-4 “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
But the glorious future isn't now. This week I asked my wife about her great grandparents. She knew nothing of them. Not a single story, not a memorable moment, nothing, gone like a vapor vanished in the past. Same for my relatives. Gone with the wind, with the morning's vapor, with the transient breath.*
True, we do have a genealogy book in the garage stacks of her father’s family going back hundreds of years, but all that’s left in that volume here in this present now are the squiggles of meaningless names covering many pages—begetting/begatting one to boredom.
Gone forever (except in the Mind of God) are their vivid stories, their unique contributions, deep inner thoughts and special reflections, their fun times, and shared moments, those time of communion with loved ones and God.
So what of Life in these the olden years (nothing golden there—unless its fools’ gold)? And for what purpose does God have us here when we seem good for nothing, unable to accomplish the most basic of our own needs, let alone achieve new goals? And all past accomplishments a dissipated vapor?
We are created in God’s image but with the onset of dementia, where is that beauty of form and creativity and achievement any longer?
For everyone time lessens, and we recede.
Every several days when I pass down the line/hall in the convalescent home (isn’t that an irony of words?), there lined down against the wall in wheelchairs sit hunched over old codgers* and old maids with slack jaws and vacant eyes. I say, “Hi” and wave but most don’t register or respond. They’re physically present but absent. No one home:-(
Are they immersed in memories or only vegetating like shriveled potatoes, long past their prime in the musty cellar of life?
But then one dumpy lady—looking a little like sallow clay in her countenance--suddenly brightens, her whole face going aglow and responds, “Hello.”
And my own dark mood lightens/brightens. She’s brought hope, showing how even in her final receding, she can still—however small and brief—-bring help to another passing her way, a momentary communion. "Where 2 or 3 are gathered..."*
And maybe that’s in the last analysis, the one hope we can rejoice in no matter how hard our lot in life, no matter how far down toward the last negation we fail, there is the spiritual communion of a fleeting moment, the beauty of a vapor, however brief.
In the Light,
*A Dream within a Dream
by Edgar Allan Poe
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! Yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! Can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
The origin of codger seems to lie in the complex links between cadger and codger (not as a contraction of 'coffin-dodger', as one of my more inventive correspondents has suggested). In some parts of England the two words were used interchangeably, whereas in other regions they were separate words, one meaning 'beggar' and the other 'eccentric/grotesque fellow'. The latter meaning is the one used in an early example of 'old codger', David Garrick's farce Bon Ton, 1775: "My Lord's servants call you an old out-of-fashion'd Codger."
Men who had fallen on hard times and had resorted to any means possible to keep body and soul together were often those who were too old to find work. A cadger was likely to be a grizzled character wanting to borrow or steal from you; a codger was a peculiar and unfashionable chap, and both were likely to be old. 'Old codger' is most likely to be the linguistic merging of all those images.
David Garrick's farce Bon Ton, 1775: "My Lord's servants call you an old out-of-fashion'd Codger."
*Nothing like throwing a heavy-handed allusion into the mix;-)
*“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” ESV