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How to Leave What You Can't Take with You
In his foaming drool, he dug furiously- like a rabid dog.
Frantic, frothy, and devilishly determined, the greedy evil character in the movie 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966),’ roamed a massive civil war cemetery looking for one particular headstone. Amidst the thousands buried and driven nearly mad by the possibility of easy riches, the ugly man dashed back and forth till he found the raised bed of what was thought to be that of a dead man buried with bags of gold and silver worth $200,000. In his foaming drool, he dug furiously- like a rabid dog.
$200,000 in civil war times was a massive fortune. And for it to be buried amidst the dead had us rethink the well-worn cliche “…you can’t take it with you.” Perhaps you can keep it nearby. But if word got out that you were buried with your fortune, well…
‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’s’ relentless bloody double-dealing treacherous pursuit of what can’t be taken with us made for wonderful entertainment (the movie is considered a classic). And if someone reflected on the irony of living life in shallow pursuit of that which cannot benefit us beyond our earthly existence, then perhaps, the movie succeeded.
I and hundreds of his family and friends buried a rich man this week. We settled him into the ground next to others of his family so he would have company. A family compound ready to greet each other upon the ‘Great Reawakening.’
That is what the pastor suggested during his eulogy of my brother. That we would someday reunite in a glorious gathering of family and dear friends. I saw head nods and heard amens whispered in firm faith. I, too, let myself imagine what a glorious day that will be. But I am no theologian. I don’t know if the nature of Heaven will be that of reunions. I hope it is.
It is perhaps easy to conflate our learned earthly observations with that of the hereafter. To infer the dimensions we have come to understand and apply them to the Heavens. Time and space allow us important references to what has been and will be. Matter and anti-matter exist within both… we think. Yet to consider a dimension with no beginning and no end stretches our imaginative capacity and serves as a useful exercise if only to keep us humble. There is so much we don’t know and much that we may never understand. We think we understand the earth in the ‘Heaven and the Earth,’ but little of the Heaven.
Brother Al didn’t much concern himself with the great ‘black holes’ of space and how they warp time. His time was warped by the constant threat of disease- several of them. Pain and suffering had him explore, much like C.S. Lewis, the purpose and value of a life lived precariously on the cliff’s edge. He was forced to live in short time spans in the constant shadow of his final breath and what lay beyond.
Nor did Alan concern himself with the status of who he talked to. He didn’t care if you were a grave robber or a person of great wealth, a golf caddie or a city mayor. He didn’t care if you were ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’- he concerned himself with your soul.
We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' and I accept it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.
I'm not sure God wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to love, and be loved. But we are like children, thinking our toys will make us happy and the whole world is our nursery. Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.
I’m not certain Alan read much of what C.S. Lewis left us in books. But he arrived at many of the same conclusions. He came to understand that his pain and suffering was no aberration. When asked, “Why him?” he replied, “Why not me?” He wasted little lamenting his condition or claiming himself a victim. He accepted his pain and grew to understand its significance and purpose. He, to use his words, chose ‘better,’ not ‘bitter.’ He came to the same conclusion that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn came to while imprisoned in the Gulag. Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.
To say my brother was ‘rich’ is an understatement. His Celebration of Life service truly celebrated a man who touched many and left much at his gravesite. Yes, he did have a bag of gold and silver and was not without blemish- neither went with him.
What he left behind surrounded him atop the earth’s hole. They were his grandchildren. A handsome lot dressed in lose fitting black suits and lovely summer dresses- some with freckles and thick hair. One or two even resemble their dearly departed grandfather.
Life goes on.
Rest in peace, dear brother.
If so interested, three years ago I wrote this of my brother. Read here.