Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Century of Wisdom

At the sunset of our lives, what do we see?
One centenarian tells all.
This past Saturday evening, I attended a Great Gatsby-themed 100th birthday party for a childhood neighbor. I overheard a young woman asking the guest of honor if she had any regrets in her life, and so I leaned in closer to hear her response. Ellen answered, “I wish I would have enjoyed life more while it was happening instead of waiting to the end to relax and enjoy it. Now I can reminisce about how wonderful the great times were and what blessings the bad times turned out to be. I wish the fifty year-old me had known everything would turn out fine in the end and my children and grandchildren were going to be just fine.” By now, a growing group of women in flapper dresses and tiaras and men trying to look like Al Capone encircled the centenarian. As a young man (well, in his thirties, which is young to me) asked how to avoid worrying about the stresses in life, her answer shocked me. She advised the crowd to “Fake it, if you have to. Some days you are going to be worried, upset, or downright scared, but just smile and enjoy being alive, because God has given you a great gift with your life. He wants to see you live every day to the fullest and enjoy it.”

An older woman (well, she looked close to Ellen’s age) added that we should be grateful because so many people have it worse off than we do. Ellen continued to surprise me as she quickly retorted, “No, no, no!” The silence told me I was not the only one who was not expecting this response, and I know I was not alone in my desire to hear Ellen’s words of wisdom. This time Ellen broke into parable. “Imagine your children when they were teenagers on Christmas morning. One daughter opens her new laptop. She politely thanks both parents and consoles herself by telling her parents that it is not a great gift, but it is better than her friend Susie’s laptop. 

All life, all Creation is a gift from God.
Another daughter opens an iPod, and she jumps up and down and screams with joy and runs over and hugs her parents hard as she shares her plans of all the music she can download and listen to as she sits on the porch, jogs, or goes for walks. As parents, we don’t want to see our children joyless and pointing out the inadequacy of the gifts we give them, even if they try to convince themselves some have received even worse gifts than the ones we gave. We want our gifts to bring them joy and help them live their lives better.”

Everyone was sitting by now, and Ellen smiled as she described how incredibly and absolutely awesome every gift was that God had given her throughout her life. She reminded everyone that God’s greatest gift was His willingness to allow His only Son to suffer and die for our sins, because God loves us so much He wants us to be with Him for all eternity. She understands this, and she believes most Christians do. But for all her understanding, there are some things she just cannot understand. She cannot understand how some people are unable to view the beauty of nature and the dignity of fellow human beings around them, because if they did they would work harder to preserve our world for the generations to come and treat all men, women, and children with dignity – whether they live next door to us or crossed a border in search of a better life for their families.
The immigrant, coming in search of
a better life, is a gift.
And of all the things she cannot understand, she does not know if she will ever be able to fathom how some people cannot recognize the beauty and dignity of every human being from the moment of conception. She pointed out God’s lack of ambiguity when he told us, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

Enjoy the gifts of life.
Everything will turn out okay!
Ellen gave us roomful of party-goers a life lesson 100 years in the making. We need to look beyond politics and focus on God. His gifts in our lives include the good and bad episodes that Ellen tells us are a normal part of life and are almost always “going to be just fine.” We need to look beyond ourselves and focus on God’s gifts of creation, our natural world, our neighbor – including and especially our marginalized and immigrant neighbors. We need to appreciate the gift of life of every other person we share our life with – from the moment God gifts us with life in the womb to the moment He calls us back to Heaven, to give us the ultimate gift of life in Heaven with Him forever. Thank you, Ellen, for the gift of your life, your love, and your incredible wisdom.

All images property of Rae Stabosz, with permission.


Jeffrey E. Mathews, MD, has been a Pauline Cooperator since October 11, 2009. He and his wife, Carolyn, live in St. Louis, MO, and are blessed with three sons and two daughters (two out of college, two in college, and one in high school). Dr. Mathews, a gastroenterologist, is trying really hard to improve his Spanish for his annual medical mission trip to Honduras.

1 comment:

Maryann Toth said...

Jeff, thank you for sharing your friend's life lesson. Wonderful advice!