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Archive for February, 2015

Kindergarten Thanatopsis

“Everybody dies,” Erin pronounced solemnly. I looked into her face, searching for a sign of concern; her eyes betrayed no alarm; her voice was steady. “Charlie is old. She will die soon.”

“Poor Charlie, her hip hurts so much,” I replied glancing down at the “Westie” at my feet. “I guess she will die someday soon.”

“But little kids don’t die very often, unless they get very sick or have an accident,” my five-year-old kindergarten granddaughter commented as if to reassure me and herself.   I could hear in her observation the echoes of the voices her RN mother and her ER physician father. I envisioned the conversation they might have had, since I knew Erin had attended the funeral of her great grandfather within the last year, and I knew, too, that she is an inquisitive child.   Yet I was astounded at what she had said. Nevertheless, I was about to write it off as a random, innocent parroting of adult homilies when she continued.

She leaned her petite head forward and whispered in my ear as if sharing a great secret with me: “You will die sometime, too.”

“Not soon, I hope!” was my surprised reply.

“Charlie will die first, I think,” she concluded.

“Probably.”

Then she jumped down from my lap and ran to dress or undress one of her dolls. I dimly recalled that the Bible said something as I watched her disappear around the corner, “Out of the mouths of babes you ordain perfect praise.” Indeed, I concluded, the most profound sermons are uttered incidentally. God often speaks loudest in the smallest voices. Little angels visit from time to time to give us little intimations of God. I remembered then words that formed themselves into a prayer in my mind, “Lord, help me to number my days aright that I might apply my heart to wisdom. Amen.” I resolved again at that moment to rejoice in the presence of my beloved children and grandchildren as much as I had opportunity.

But Wait! There’s more

But the sermon had not concluded. A few minutes later, Erin came again to sit upon my lap. Charlie, not wanting to be left out, hobbled back into the bedroom and hid beside the rocking chair, her nose peeking out from under the bed skirt. I thought distractedly how pets are often an object lesson in life both to children and their parents. Then I thought to change the subject.

“I hope to retire someday and then I could spend more time with you. What do you think of that?”

Erin nodded, “Yeah! That would be great! And then you can hold my babies, too . . . and someday I’ll be a grandmother and have granddaughters like me that I will hold on my lap like you do, Papa . . . . But you probably wouldn’t be here then. You will be dead.”

I tried to hide my astonishment at her matter-of-fact apprehension of one of the great truths of life and of the human condition.

“That will okay. It will be your turn,” I said as I wondered at what other profundities lay behind her dancing eyes, but I was afraid, perhaps more than a little, to ask her what else she was thinking for fear of provoking hard questions from her and unsettling ones for me, questions for which I have no certain or ready answer. So I changed the subject again.

“What do you think? Do dogs retire? What do dogs do when they quit the dog’s life?”

She leaned over the arm of the chair to consider Charlie whose greatest joy as a pup had been to chase a rubber ball, but now only lay about the house or wandered the yard in a daze when let out.

“When dogs retire, they die,” was her considered response.

“Well, I hope that is not what happens to people,” I said. I meant it too. I think Erin thought that was a good idea as well.

Sad Good-byes

Later as we said “good-bye” and departed for Texas at the end of our weekend visit, I reflected on how very much our leaving was a picture of a “passing.” As Jesus told his disciples, “I am going to a far country where you may not follow.” His friends were not happy to hear this news. Nor are we glad to see a loved one leave us, even for a little while.

The pain of separation is very real but really only for us who must stay behind. Those who go on ahead either pay us no mind because we are already with them there in the future, if the promises are to be believed, or they pay us no mind because death is a forever sleep. In any case, it is we who are left behind to remember that know the pain. Yet it is in remembering that we find comfort and touch again the heart of those we have loved.

My mother’s funeral coincided sixteen years ago—now going on seventeen years—with the very day that I first learned of Erin’s elder brother’s existence. Audrey would have adorned Erin (as she would have treasured all of her great grandchildren) if she had had the chance to know them. But in this kindergartener especially she would surely have delighted, for my mother would have seen herself manifested, and she would have been right.

When I looked at Erin I saw all of us plainly on display in innocence and sprightliness. I recalled the assertion, “Grandchildren are God’s proposition that the human race should continue.” I meditated only a moment and hoped it not presumptuous to second His motion, my “Amen” almost audible.

When my time on earth is spent and I must depart, I pray that it will be a gracious exit, and that those who remain will remember me with loving thoughts and appreciation. If so, then I will live again in them and in their memory. And it is our hope and His promise that we will soon see each other again, very soon. For all people die sometime. I know this. Erin told me so.

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