Treading The Path Toward Death
It was before Netflix. My family didn’t own a computer. My best friend’s dad had just purchased a VCR, but didn’t have any cassettes. It was 1990 and we were doing what we did most warm summer evenings in our rural Australian town; sitting under a Mango Tree, sucking on homemade frozen ices. That morning, before swimming at the river, we’d poured juice into plastic cups, cleared a hidden corner in the freezer where my sister wouldn’t find them, and balanced the cups between some frozen peas and a bag of unrecognisable leftovers.
As the melting juice dribbled down my arm, Jeff and I relaxed in our usual spot wondering if Karen actually waved at me or someone else. I don’t recall much else of that conversation, other than it was as intellectually stimulating as any fourteen year old boys’. The only other topic that night centred around the turn of the millennium. Jeff and I tried to picture what would life be like when the year 2000 rolled in. We looked at each other and laughed, imagining ever more wildly what we would be like at the ripe old age of twenty-four. Twenty-four seemed a lifetime away, barely conceivable. The coming millennium seemed to us a shrouded mystery.
I smile as I recall that night. Fourteen seems so long ago. So does twenty-four. The innocent wonderings of my teenage mind couldn’t fathom the life I’ve lived since, nor should it have. There is a profound joy in simply enjoying the journey. Once twenty-four seemed a far-off destination, now it is almost a distant memory. Landscapes seem to shift depending on your perspective, even though time never changes. What I am only now beginning to realise would have been unfathomable to me then, yet despite what shrouded destinations remain, I have always been treading the path towards death.
1990 soon became 2000, which suddenly turned into 2019. I never thought to ask Jeff what life would be like in 2020, but next year will soon unfold and I will gather with loved ones to celebrate my forty-fourth birthday. What other shrouds cover realities I haven’t even imagined? At fourteen, I had the foresight to see ten years ahead, thinking it almost a fantasy. Now the road stretches before me, many unseen bends and valleys yet to cross. Life ten years from now is still a mystery. I’m familiar with the forty-three year old man gazing back at me from the mirror, but it’s difficult to envisage what fifty-three will look like. In the end, whether or not I can imagine it probably doesn’t matter; one day I will walk around that bend and discover myself. By then, my conversation under the Mango Tree may be so distant it will have evaporated into the haze of time. And that will be okay, it will have served its purpose.
My journey is more an evidence of God’s good hand than the result of introspective musing about youthful reminiscing or philosophical considerations on ageing. Beyond imagined barriers lie realities shrouded in the ‘not yet’, but above and below lays the ever-present, all-enveloping presence of a God whose name is, I AM. He has always been I AM, and always will be I AM. He was I AM while I sat under the Mango Tree, while I looked across the harbour in Suva, Fiji on January 1, 2000, and while I write this as a forty-three year old by the banks of the Hunter River.
It isn’t purely my own transient existence on earth that matters. My brief life only makes sense in light of God’s eternal nature. That I can even attempt to count my days only makes sense beside the incalculable presence of an eternal God.
A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
7 For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
12 So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!
The morning of my life flourished with renewal, but my middle years have felt the rising heat. Evening tarries but the sun has reached its zenith, its path slowly shadowed in a gathering gloom. I’m not sure when night will finally fall, but I don’t dread those days as being eternally dark. Death is another shroud, concealing a realm I can barely imagine. Glimpses of glory and hints of heaven seep out into the world around me; moments I’ve learned to see and savour. The shroud ahead, shadowed in evening’s deepening hues, is not an ending to my path but another doorway into a journey ever deeper, ever higher.
Moses instructs me to number my days in the shadow of the eternal because it yields a heart of wisdom. Like a child comprehends lofty truths in simple ways, this divine truth may be further served, by considering how Lewis concludes his fantastic tale in the Narnia Chronicles. In the closing pages of the final instalment to his stories, Lewis writes, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!” ― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle.
The shroud of death had passed, but a new country was presently opening up before them. One story had concluded, another had just begun.
“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
I wouldn’t go back and tell my fourteen year old self anything more than I already knew. The journey ahead would show me what I needed to know, to experience, to see. It would lead me here. Admittedly, the future still holds many fears. But no matter the count of my days, or whenever the shroud finally falls over me, I have One who walks ever-present, ever-before, waiting to welcome me into a new journey. Then I will stand in wonder, and though it take me 100 years to find the words, I will eventually say, “I have come home at last!”