Monday, January 9, 2012

Stopping the Clock



The wind is whirling last fall’s leaves about as I approach the house. Observing the darkened rooms in the blackness of this January evening, I make out the lovely colonial-style house which was home to our dear friends William and Wilma for nearly forty years--until William's death some months ago. Hoping that my car’s approach does not produce any sort of phobia for Wilma, who is home alone this Friday night as she is almost every evening now that her husband has passed away, I consider calling her on my cell phone to warn her of my visit. What must it be like to live alone in complete silence, with only family and close friends stopping by on occasion? I wonder.

I decide against the call and instead knock at the door, in time to see the elderly woman escape from the TV-lighted living room into the cozy kitchen. I rap again, confident that she will return momentarily. Ah, there she is in her purple turtleneck sweater, coming to greet me.

“I’m not one for being frightened,” she says, welcoming me at the door, “but I did wonder who could be coming to the house at this time of night.”

I glance at my watch. It is just past 6:30 p.m., but the inky darkness on this moonless night undoubtedly accounts for her surprise.

“How about a ham sandwich?” she suggests.

Not having eaten dinner, I readily agree, and we enter the kitchen.

Reaching for a chair, I pause. Do I want to sit in this special place at the head of the table? It’s where we could always find William in his final days. After a moment’s hesitation, I pull out what used to be William's chair. In an instant, thoughts of his last day on earth flood my mind. But not before I’m suddenly jolted into the present.

“You can pray,” Wilma says.

After offering thanks for the meal, we enjoy a pleasant exchange. And all sorts of people—most of them now dead—enter our conversation. At one point, Wilma gets up, goes to the desk, and brings back a stack of papers.

“Bob found these on the Internet,” she tells me, handing me the pile of papers from her son. I find them all very similar: little biographical sketches of people’s lives, with a very important date at the top: the day they left this earth. Once not too long ago, Wilma didn’t have time to read the obituaries; now it’s become a daily routine.

Later we move to the family room, decorated by various gifts and paintings from friends. We talk of the people who’d given the presents, the artists who’d originated the paintings, and the benefactors who’d bequeathed the antique furniture. All these people are now gone.

“Have you seen a picture of my William’s eighth grade class?” she wants to know when her high school days enter our conversation. And before me she sets a picture of one of the cutest blonde-haired kids I’ve ever seen. Then come the even older photos, of great-grandparents and her relations from many years past. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh”—the words of Ecclesiastes 1:4 echo through my mind.

As the clock strikes, Wilma tells me a story about a neighbor who came to wind her clocks while she and William were on vacation. The story makes me laugh, but I remember her stack of papers: that man’s obituary was there.

With each of the Westminster chimes, I think:
“If only time could stand still!”
“If only the seconds would cease!”
“If only the minutes could stop!”

And then it hits me. As I sit in this room, covered with artifacts from those now dead, built by a man now in the grave, talking to this dear woman whose own time is running out, I am reliving life. While the clock moves forward, ticking new seconds, erasing the past and painting the future, I suddenly perceive that in some small way, I can defy Time’s forward march.

Whenever I make a phone call to an elderly person or visit those in a nursing home, I am partaking of others’ lives, reliving their history, and getting as close as I ever will to stopping Time that keeps marching on. Though I can’t predict what my own future will hold, I wonder if someday I will be the one whose newspaper reads include obituaries each day, whose house is filled with relics of the past, and whose friends are monthly departing for eternity.

While none of us know the specifics of God’s will, we can rest assured that one day we will leave this earth; therefore, let us “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16), utilizing carefully the moments God has granted us to live for Him.