It had been years since I was in the sanctuary of my youth. The occasion was a celebration of the life of a great lady, now “passed on.” I like the term passed on better than “passed away.” For me, the former better conveys the sense of continuity that as a Christian I embrace. I hold to the notion that my essence, my soul, will someday pass on/transition to another reality.
A life well-lived is an aspiration for us all. Some seem to do it better than others. The kind and gracious lady lived long and well, despite the obligatory heartaches of life. Benjamin Franklin once observed that those who drink deeply from the draft of life can expect some dregs in the bottom of the stein.
I remembered the church sanctuary as much larger, but the perspective of youth is different than that of a “seasoned citizen.” I was surprised that the balcony and pews at the rear of the church were not needed for this gathering of friends and family. Undoubtedly, the great lady had lived so deeply into life that many of her peers had long since preceded her. However, she lives on in the minds and hearts of friends and the three generations of her family present to honor their kind and grace-filled matriarch. I was there because of our friendship, and because she was my patient for three decades, and her husband’s doctor until he, as Tennyson said, “crossed the bar.”
It seems that funerals come more often these days for me. My cohort is aging. As a result I know more people who are, like me, getting “older.” Still, most days I don’t feel “old” though the Evil Queen’s “mirror on the wall” suggests otherwise. As an aging doctor, I’m acquainted with increasing numbers of people who are finishing their earthly journey. At another friend’s recent funeral, I was even a pallbearer – a first for me.
Funerals are for the living. Both of my friends and patients went as far as they could go. And when they and their families realized they could go no further, they courageously let go. The mystery of life, dying and continuity, is told in the wonderful short allegorical story, “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf,” by Leo F. Buscaglia. It is a must read.
Recently, I was asked to give a lecture on writing. Apparently, the leader of this group is one of my readers and enjoys my prose. I’m not the same man I used to be. When I first began my medical career I was terrified of public speaking. I found this a professional impediment, so I practiced and practiced, pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, giving hundreds of medical lectures, until I became facile in this aspect of teaching.
After hearing of the invitation, my wife, Becky, asked me what I was going to talk about at the lecture since there would not be an organ or a disease involved. Since the focus was writing, I decided to explain how I became a writer. I have told the story that I never wrote anything beyond school assignments until 2001. It was the summer before 911 that my friend challenged me to begin spiritual journaling. And this changed my life.
I believe you learn to write by writing. So, in answer to my wife’s question, I decided to tell the audience how I came to be an average fish in a small pond of Knoxville writers. I distilled my life’s story into some sentinel life events: my acceptance into medical school, my spiritual reawakening and then my reconnecting to Becky as a senior in medical school. I first met Becky in junior high school and worshipped her from afar. She said of us, “we were friends.” But, from the perspective of a teenage boy, this was arguably an inadequate relationship. Fortunately, I was more mature when we reconnected and my stock had risen over time. And the last phase of my metamorphosis began with spiritual journaling in 2001. I must have been a more complete person by the time the publisher of The Focus recognized some latent talent because he offered me a column in his paper nearly eleven years ago. This is my 563rd, thousand word essay, for The Knoxville Focus.
As Sonny Bono sang, “The beat goes on…” as does my concierge medical practice, teaching young doctors, helping my family, seeking and serving the Master, and now writing. Abraham Heschel once wished for himself, “to live a life of wonder.” I do. And each day I awaken I thank God for another day, as did the Psalmist in 118:24. I am grateful that I have life left to live and service left to give.
Some years ago I came upon a philosophical thought which tied things together for me. The ancient perspective called panentheism (not pantheism of the Force in Star Wars) has several nuanced variations, but the one I like holds that everything exists within the created sphere of God which we moderns call space-time. Aristotle argued that, contrary to Stephen Hawking and others, something cannot come from nothing, a notion we call causality. The 20th century Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis deduced that the Creator, of all that is, exists out of the space-time we mortals inhabit. Even Einstein’s relativistic visions and the capricious subatomic particles of quantum mechanics which drive our computers exist within the Creation.
So, in tribute (homage) to my departed friends and in honor of the Maker of everything, I offer in closing the beautiful poetic vision of William Wordsworth:
“My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.”