Working at a college, the end of year always brings different ceremonies and speeches. Speakers are telling young people to follow their passions and dream big. There are two people who I have heard quoted many times. First is Linda Ellis and her 1996 poem:
“So when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?”
Second is David Brooks’ 2015 editorial about the two sets of virtues: résumé virtues and eulogy virtues:
“The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful.”
Both of these are reflective, and far-reaching, challenging us to think to about the entirety of life, and the decisions we make in our journey. I have heard them so many times recently they have become almost cliché and highly doubt newly graduated high school and college graduates grasp the concepts in the midst of their excitement. But circumstances in my own life have me thinking often about the circle of life. How we care for babies and toddlers….and how we care for our grandparents, parents, and other relatives when they age. During a conversation with a close relative recently she said, “I never thought I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself.” (She has had to reluctantly accept a move into the nursing home. She worries about the ending, but forgets how amazing the middle was!)
I am coming to discover that the window we have is smaller than I ever realized. Life goes by quickly and, too often, sudden and tragic accidents or a medical diagnosis can shorten it even more. Truthfully, I do not want to spend the time I have thinking about my “dash” or what people could or would say at my funeral. When I heard in the past week or two that Doris Day died and left instructions to have no funeral or memorial service or grave marker, I appreciated that. Being an introvert who dislikes attention, I would be totally OK with that myself. Also, since I really dislike people talking about me when I am alive, why would I want people talking about me when I am gone?
James 4:14 says, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” We spend time worrying about legacy and forget to live. We worry about tomorrow, when I think we need to focus on what single thing can we do today that we would regret if tomorrow does not come? Recently a tragic car accident in our community put this into full view. And last Friday, at work, a colleague got a text message and needed to rush to the hospital. An unexpected stroke took a dear friend. When my phone rings the next time, who will it be? Anything can happen on my ride home. Yet, we cannot and should not dwell on these possibilities. That in itself is paralyzing.
Jesus Himself knew how things were going to go down, which explains His frustration with His disciples when they fell asleep on Holy Thursday night. He realized how precious the time He had was; the cross was waiting for Him. Today (and on Sunday) we celebrate Ascension. In the first reading Sunday from Acts, we will read the words of Jesus, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.” He was talking to his disciples, but He could be talking to us, right now. He challenges them (and us) to go and do something–use His Spirit which is alive in us. It is our vocation, our mission, our responsibility as Catholics. He also makes no guarantees about how long we have.
We do not know the ending, the how or the when, so we make the mistake of thinking time is limitless. There is the possibility that our lives will not make a full circle of life…from baby to old age/natural death. I am guilty of spending too much time looking at my phone screen and wasting the minutes and hours God has given me. I hide myself away, because of hurt and rejection. But I also do not want to waste time worrying about my dash or my eulogy or legacy. With everything happening in life lately, I want to think about today. If something happens today, have I said everything I should? And, here’s the hard one, am I ready for heaven? Have I done everything I can?
Ascension is our sending. Surrexit Christus vere Alleluia! Ergo ite! (Christ is truly risen, alleluia! Then go!) God’s way of saying to us right now, in words we can understand, “Don’t just sit there on your phone, get busy!” I will be reminding myself of 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Behold, now is a very acceptable time.” That means today.