My cousin, John Clem, died suddenly last week at the age of 52. It was likely a pulmonary embolism. The suddenness of his death shocked and deeply saddened many. He was dearly loved and was a great servant of God and man in the Charlottesville, Virginia area.
At the funeral today, my mind drifted back to a photo album my father once assembled not long before his death. In the frontispiece he inscribed a passage from Psalm 103:
But as for man, his days are like the grass,
or as the flower of the field.
The wind blows and he is gone,
And his place never sees him anymore.
Indeed, our lives do pass swiftly. I often think about the many men who once lived in my rectory, this place that never sees them anymore. One day, I too will be swept from here, becoming a distant memory peering out from some old photographs in the archive.
In Psalm 90 there are some other painfully beautiful lines:
O Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to the next.
Before the mountains were born
or the earth or the world brought forth,
you are God, without beginning or end.
You turn men back to dust
and say, “Go back, sons of men.”
To your eyes a thousand years
are like yesterday, come and gone,
no more than a watch in the night.
You sweep men away like a dream,
like the grass which springs up in the morning.
In the morning it springs up and flowers:
by evening it withers and fades. …
Our life is over like a sigh.
Our span is seventy years,
or eighty for those who are strong.
Make us know the shortness of our life
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Lord, relent! Is your anger forever?
Show pity to your servants.
In the morning, fill us with your love;
we shall exult and rejoice all our days.
Give us joy to balance our affliction
for the years when we knew misfortune.
Show forth your work to your servants;
let your glory shine on their children.
Let the favor of the Lord be upon us.
Yes, lines like these went through my mind at the funeral and also this past weekend as I saw this beautiful video—a commercial, really. The short video below shows the span of one woman’s life, some seventy years, in less than two minutes. How quickly she moves through the stages of her life, from infancy to her golden years!
At the end of the video, the woman walks off into the distance as the setting sun casts its orange and gold rays. Here, too, I recalled the moving lines of an old hymn:
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Our years number seventy—or perhaps eighty for those who are strong. Or as the old Douay beautifully put it, The days of our years are threescore and ten. But if in the strong they be fourscore …