Sunday, August 8, 2010

Live Until You Die

"We play hard to try to forget that we live in a haunted house. "
     --Carlyle Marney

Wise preacher Carlyle Marney used to say the greatest grief is that we all run out of time. He would back up this statement with the time old Nicodemus came to Jesus one night. The prominent Pharisee came with his question: “Can a man be born again when he is old?” Marney would say Nicodemus was longing to turn the clock back, stop its movement—to find some fountain of youth. We all come to that hard place where we know there is no turning back—there is more behind than ahead. And this is a hard lesson to learn.

I woke up the other day and suddenly realized I am seventy-four years old. Why I have lived 8 years longer than my father. Not too long ago I would have sworn that 74 was not only old—but it was ancient. People at the grocery store sometimes not only talk too loud to old timers, but they talk down to you like you have lost most of your marbles.   “C-a-n.... I …. h-e-l-p….y-o-u?” Young folk begin calling you sir and policeman and doctors begin to look like high schoolers.

Having lost a couple of good, good friends to death the last few years I know now that the great grief really is that we do run out of time. And yet to fritter away what time we have left with anxiety and depression and wistful thinking seems to waste the days we have left.

My heroes in living all the way to the finish line are two friends in South Carolina. After they both lost their spouses—they found each other. He was 78 and she was 70. That was sixteen years ago. When he retired from being a College Dean he went back to law school at age 65. She was an art teacher in high school, was once named South Carolina teacher of the year and continues to paint since her retirement.

Morris celebrated his 94th birthday recently and Liz is 86. For twenty-five years Morris has helped many people on limited income with legal matters. She told me he might hang it up next year. He drives a Rolls Royce and Liz still enters art contests and continues to be a recognized artist. Two years ago they built a new house—and they designed an art studio for Liz’s work. Some people thought to build a new house at 92 and 84 was a mite strange. But they did it and they love the house. She told me that the Computer man is coming this next week to set up her new computer.  Last year they spent three weeks in Italy. Later this year they are flying to Massachusetts to Morris’ family reunion. They are devoted to one another and get up every morning as if each new day is a package to be opened with joy.

None of us will get out of this life alive. I can look back and easily wish I had done things differently. And yet—Liz and Morris are teaching me what’s important. Most of us old timers are frustrated like Nicodemus that we cannot stop the clock or turn back the years. And yet the challenge is to make whatever we have left count. A friend of mine took his little girl to church one Sunday and after the sermon was over she told her father, “Daddy, that preacher finished before he stopped.” Dear God, I would like to finish and stop at the same place.


  1. good, good people.
    amen to that.
    amen to it all.

  2. Dear Roger--Those dear, dear people are my mother and step-father. You are right. They are incredible role models. They are also blessings to me and both extended families, and they never cease to amaze and delight us. Thank you for writing about Mom and Morris!
    Shelley Hobson

  3. Liz and Morrris are courageous, inspiring individuals who have made incalculable contributions that reaches far beyond our (Clemson, SC) community. If we all could be as benevolent and kindhearted as they are then love and peace would dwell in abundance. Thanks for sharing this motivational review for" keeping on, keeping on" as we grow old.
    Though Woodie and I were playing " kick the can" for four years before you entered this beautiful world, we continue to give life our best shot. W. still works full time and I just published my 4th book last year. Over my desk is a quote that drives me onward: "Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming -WOO Hool what a ride!."
    Winnie W.

  4. Roger, I just became one of your followers tonight. I'm the minister in your former neck of the woods--Georgetown. I'm at First Christian (Disciples of Christ). I have read some of your stuff in the Christian Century, and I have come across some of your sermons. I figured any person who would quote Carlyle Marney must be worthy of following. My DMin project was about Marney. I look forward to checking in at your site from time to time. I hope that you will read some of what I have to say. Best, Scott Cox