Have you ever had one of those nights when you awake in a complete panic because you were realizing, in your sleep, that you have already lived at least half of your life? That perhaps you do not have many more decades stretching before you? I did. And boy, was I in a sweat, breathing heavily, and completely panicked. I sat there, realizing that I am in my “late 50s” and I doubt I will be living to my 100s! My parents are both in their “late 80s.” And the clock keeps ticking. And there is not a thing I can do about that. And I began to weep. I wept for my children – how I love them so and do not want to leave them. I wept for my grandchildren, because they are so new to this world and I want to get to know them, and have them know me. I wept, and reached over and touched my husband (he did not notice through his rather exuberant snoring). This man who I have spent my life with, loving and often disliking (I will always love him, but some days he’s not on my “favorites” list. But that’s the reality of marriage!). We just celebrated 29 years of marriage and I cannot imagine a life without him next to me. And I know his life would be so much more difficult without me next to him, too. We need each other to keep each other “our best selves.” He is good for me, for my soul. And I am good for him. It’s why it works, and has worked, for so many years. But I wept at the thought of not being with him, next to him, loving him and feeling the warmth of him near me.
God tells us in so many places in scripture that we are not to worry. One of my favorites is Matthew 6: 25-34:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
And as I sat there, catching my breath late last night, I tried to think of this, to think this way. As St. Cosmas said in the first photo, “There is no better teacher than death.” And I really think that when we put our very few days here on earth into a global perspective, we truly need to focus. Life truly is short and the older I get, the shorter it seems.
There are so many little things I should be doing right now. Why do I procrastinate? Why do I waste time? And no, for those of you who read these posts, I have not completed my office, yet. My daughter-in-law offered to come over tomorrow and said that we can tackle it together. I bought a curtain rod for the drapes I have for the window (a very old wool blanket my parents brought from New Zealand more than 50 years ago hangs there now). I have file folders ready to go. I even filed and labeled some of the stuff. So why does her offer frighten me? It’s almost like I won’t have anything to do if I do complete organizing that space. And I thought about this and I realized that I am a big baby in many ways. I am afraid of what’s around the corner, because I know I don’t have that many corners left to go around! And what do I have to show for myself?
As St. Irenaeus reminds us above, “The business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death.” In this photo of an ossuary in Eastern Europe, the monks keep the skulls of their brethren who have passed before them. Their names are etched on the skulls and the monks often come to sit and commune with their fellow monks. We believe that when we die, our souls rise to be with God. If we have lived a holy life, we know, and we expect, that we will be with God. By looking to those who have gone before us, certain of their salvation, we can emulate their lives and make similar choices in our own. We also believe that the Church Triumphant, filled with those in the presence of God who have gone before us, await our prayers and will pray for us and with us, the Church Militant, here on earth. There is great comfort in knowing our community is larger than we can even fathom. At Divine Liturgy, we are reminded that all the angels, “six-winged, many-eyed and soaring on their pinons” are before us at the altar. We are in the midst of the Holy Communion of God and His people.
We are called to have our own “domestic Church” in our homes. Places of refuge, prayer, comfort, and safety, where we bring and welcome Our Lord, our family, and our friends. A place where the Word of God is commonplace, prayer is daily, and we have reminders of God and His Saints before us always. I re-arranged our Icons from a wall to more of a corner. I mushed them all together and left a corner section bare, waiting on my husband to construct an icon corner shelf for me. Our incensor is waiting, with our candle and an icon of Christ Pantocrator, to be placed in the corner. I love seeing the Icons, paintings and statues we have around our home; they give me comfort. On the wall next to our bed is a beautiful painting of the “Flight into Egypt,” a photo of modern-day Jerusalem and the Tomb of Christ from above, another of a painting of the Theotokos holding the Christ Child while the angels serenade Him, and many more, including icons of our patron saints, St. Joseph and Ruth. And as I panicked in the dark last night, I knew these images were all around me and I took comfort. I offered prayers to Our Lord and I prayed for strength, comfort, and peace. And I laid back down and promptly fell asleep.