The Brevity and the Beauty
Spending the last year of my life imagining the last years of my life
This weekend I turned 31, and every year around my birthday I do a bit of reflecting on the last year. I figured I would share a bit of that with you here as a small break from the usual social media explorations. We’ll get back to all the social media stuff next week, as it’s looking like there will be plenty to consider with more than 50 articles written yesterday alone about the new Facebook revelations. Anyway, for now, here’s a more personal note for you.
In the last year, I have thought about death and the brevity of life more than I ever have. Surely part of that is living in a pandemic in which death has become a daily character. On a personal front, at least two dozen friends or family members of mine have either died in the last year or have experienced the death of a loved one themselves, some losing grown children, some losing un- or newborn children, some losing parents. For a season in this last year, largely unrelated to COVID, my wife and I remarked that it felt like death was lurking around every turn of a new week. It almost became a question of, “Who close to us will be touched by death this week?” It was grim there for a bit, around this time last year, but even in the last few weeks people we love have continued to be touched by death to degrees we haven’t quite experienced before.
It’s easy when you’re just out of college, entering the real world, and finding your place in it to feel a bit invincible. Unless you suffer a major health crisis or endure another life-altering hardship of some kind, it’s easy when you’re young to forget that this life doesn’t last forever. Even if you have an unshakeable hope in eternal life it is easy to forget ephemerality of our present one.
Now I’m 31-years-old, and I don’t feel so invincible anymore, which is probably laughable to someone who’s 51 or 81, but it’s true.
This isn’t to say I thought I was invincible before I turned 30 and then I felt like I was teleported to death’s door with some sudden onset of physical or mental ailments. In fact, I feel more physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy today than I have since probably around when I got married almost nine years ago. I passed my annual physical a couple of weeks ago with no real issues to report. I go to the gym and work out five days a week. I’m spending time in Scripture and prayer at least five days a week. My current job is the least stressful, most fun job I’ve ever had. I get to spend more time with family than I ever have because I no longer spend two or three hours sitting in the car on the road each day. I just signed a contract to write my second book in as many years, and I can’t wait to (hopefully) write more.
Life has truly never been better, and yet I have never been so aware of my own mortality. I don’t count this a coincidence.
My daughter, Maggie, was born before I turned 30, but her incredible development in the last year of my life has reminded me of my inevitable decline in the years to come. Even since the summer she has gone from crawling and babbling to running and putting multiple words together.
One of the clearest phrases Maggie says right now—in the cutest little voice—is, “Bye-bye da-da.” When I leave for the gym around lunch time each day, or when Susie is carrying her out to the garage to go grocery shopping, or even sometimes just when she slides off my lap after reading a book, she says in her small voice, “Bye-bye da-da,” opening and closing her hand in that exaggerated way that toddlers wave. And many times when I smile and giggle at the blessed reality that is hearing my daughter say that to me—a literal dream come true—I think:
“This little girl will bury me.”
If everything goes well in my life, if my story is written as I would prefer it be written, this little girl will bury me. That is how this ends, even in the best of scenarios. “Bye-bye da-da” is a beautiful part of my every day and a bitter reminder of what is to come.
The little hands that I hold as we walk around the house together are the same hands I hope will grasp mine as I pass from this life to the next.
The beautiful eyes that have already begun to roll at my admonition will likely well up with tears when I have no guidance left to give.
The same voice that sings “clean up, clean up,” while doing the opposite in the living room will sing, “It Is Well With My Soul,” while likely feeling the opposite at my funeral.
The woman who sees me off to my six-feet-under slumber is the little girl I rock to sleep each night, stuffed donkey in hand.
This is the same girl, just with more time in her bones and no more life in mine.
The unmatched joy that comes with watching my daughter grow up is accompanied by the unrelenting reminder that it won’t last forever…that I won’t last forever. Not in this way, anyway. Nothing has made me more aware of the brevity of my own life than the beauty of my daughter’s.
Of course, because of the salvation I have in the finished work of Christ, I have hope in life eternal. Praise God for that. But the hope that I have in eternity doesn’t eradicate the sadness that comes with the realization that this life, even just this season, doesn’t last forever. This life, however broken and marred by sin, is truly beautiful, and nothing has made that more apparent to me than watching my daughter experience it for herself. I think I can rejoice in the eternal hope I have in Christ while also grieving that this present sweetness is only temporary.
Moments Make Our Lives
In her book The Writing Life Annie Dillard writes, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”
It’s so easy to take the moments for granted, both as a parent and as a person. One of the most common parenting truisms says, “The days are long, but the years are short,” as a sort of comfort for the struggles of the everyday parenting grind. My prayer is that the days never get shorter and the years only get longer. And I hope that the next year is made up of many moments reveling in the beauty of this season and maybe fewer moments thinking about the brevity of it.