The Passage of Time

8th Birthday
8th Birthday

Time is such an odd thing. It is, in a very real sense, relative and yet it is clearly measurable. I remember how long December 1-25 seemed to last when I was a child and yet today years go by so quickly I can hardly separate one Christmas or birthday from another. This year has gone by surprisingly fast in some moments and painfully slow in others.

How we measure time is curious as well. When it comes to simply timing of, say, a 50 freestyle event, we are very precise. But when we talk about our age we are always looking backward. So, for example, we recently received a wonderful gift to the Schreyer Honors College from Mr. Ray Walker. He gave us $1,000 for every year of his life. The gift was for an amazing $101,000. I was a little confused when I was speaking with him though, because he said he was 102. Well, I thought, what is a year here or there when you are that old? But he was not confused in the least. He said, “I have already finished 101 years and I am well into my 102nd. Why not take credit for it!” (I decided not to ask him for the extra $1,000. Seemed gauche.) I agreed with him completely.

Today is Mack’s birthday. He would have been 10 years old. He died just 16 days shy of his 9th birthday and it has always bothered me that all the reports, accurately, said that he was 8 years old when he died. He was but he wasn’t. He had lived nearly 9 full, vibrant years. And I don’t want a single one taken off his life.

Many of you are probably familiar with the justly famous quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “It is not length of life, but depth of life.” It can be found cited in any number of books on mourning and loss and rightly so. The quality of our lives ought to be judged not by how long we live, but what we did with the time we had. Mack’s 9 years were full of love and life, play and sport, laughter and joy. We are blessed that we do not regret any trip taken, early morning to get to a tournament 3 hours away, or late night drive home after a long day with grandparents. We are also blessed that we didn’t know it would only be 9 years. There was no shadow looming just bright sun and a smooth green pitch on which to play.

Time passes. We cannot hold it back. 

Elizabeth has often and rightly said how we respond to Mack’s death determines much about his life. How we remember the past shapes our future. So how do we remember Mack? Do we celebrate his life or do we curl up in a cocoon of sorrow? (And no one would blame us and some days we do.) The way in which we respond impacts not only our own outlook and remembrance of Mack, but that of our daughter’s, Mack’s friends, our neighbors….

When I taught Intro to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament on a regular basis 1 and 2 Samuel were some of my favorite books to teach. I love David and think that he is such a great example for anyone, believers and non-believers, and usually not in a positive way. David’s response to the death of his first son with Bathsheba is very interesting (2 Sam. 12). It is not an easy passage and I will not deal with the more challenging theology of it here, but the setting is this: their son became deathly ill because of David’s sin in taking Bathsheba from her husband Uriah. 1I actually blogged on just this topic back in 2009, long before it became personally relevant.

19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, he perceived that the child was dead; and David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.”

20   Then David rose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He went into the house of the LORD, and worshiped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him and he ate.  21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you rose and ate food.”  22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me, and the child may live.’  23 But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

David’s servants were afraid that once their king knew his son was dead he would take his own life, his grief would be so deep. David had been behaving as if his child was already dead, what would his response be but deeper despondency? Instead David behaved as if it was a feast day. This wasn’t lack of faith. Faith drove him to pray and ask God to spare his child. Faith also gave him the confidence to say, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Not long ago I was telling Elizabeth that I feel my deepest sorrow when I think about the fact that I am getting farther and further away from Mack each day. She reminded me that no, each day we get closer to when we will see him again. We will go to him. I believe that and I rejoice thinking about that moment. I also rejoice in the life we have. Not just the 9 years we had with Mack but the years we continue to have with Izzy and the twenty years and counting I have had with Elizabeth (I am sure she would say some years have seemed longer than others.).

In various church traditions the hours are kept and known not only by the rising and setting of sun and moon but by prayers. In the evening, the last prayers said before going to bed, is compline and it concludes with this words.

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake
we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.


  • 1
    I actually blogged on just this topic back in 2009, long before it became personally relevant.

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