Transience

I’ve taken lately to walking rather than running for exercise. The physical exertion that running requires for my old(ish) body is too much for me to get one of the largest benefits from it, which is time to reflect and meditate on whatever’s running through my mind that gets pushed aside in the noise of the day. So, I walk. Since spring has disproven itself as a myth here in Minnesota, I’ve started exploring the neighborhood more, and one of my usual walking routes takes me to a cemetery that is about exactly a mile from our house.

Thing is, though, once I get there, I usually get distracted by the stories on the stones, and wind up breaking my usual brisk pace to wander through a bit. Either way, I figure it’s more calories burned than would be if I were sitting at home, so I call it good and enjoy finding patterns and interesting things in our town’s cemetery.

The other night I discovered a row of graves toward the back of the cemetery. About fifteen or so flat stones, all similarly carved, but with widely varying dates of death, and no family patterns that I can see. Several are from the depression years, a couple dates are  in the mid to late ’40’s, but one stone stood out to me, even more than the undated one that read “Unknown.” This one read simply, “Transient, 1939.” One of these days when I have more time, I think I might search out the town library and see if there’s a story behind the person, but being that 1939 was deep in the depression years, I doubt I’ll find much.

I walked through the cemetery on Mother’s Day, and found it to be a busier place than usual, surprising until I realized that …well, a cemetery is full of mothers. I saw a young family with two children, bearing flowers, Mom kneeling down to place the flowers while the children skipped around behind. I realized that not only are cemeteries full of mothers, but also populated by children as well, and having just been through a family death, I felt it more closely than I might have otherwise, and realized that it is a blessing to have children who I can serve in many more ways than placing flowers at a gravesite and children who are more than a memory to cherish.

Elanor came  along with me on my walk tonight, and we wandered around a bit, as we did some quick math -a pair of graves of siblings, one infant girl who lived only a day, and her brother, who was born about 11 months later and lived a relatively long life.  I pointed out to her that had his sister not been taken so young, he might not have been born. Providence even in sorrow -at least that’s the idea I tried to point out. Time will tell if she understood what I was getting at. Further along, we noticed the lovingly decorated graves of some who died young, A powerful illustration that nobody really knows the number of their days.

It occurred to me that a way, we’re all transients, passing through. We work to leave a Godly legacy, but in the end, even granite headstones are worn, pictures destroyed, and stories and names forgotten.

 1-2 “Comfort, oh comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem,
but also make it very clear
That she has served her sentence,
that her sin is taken care of—forgiven!
She’s been punished enough and more than enough,
and now it’s over and done with.”

 3-5Thunder in the desert!
“Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth,
a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys,
level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts,
clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine
and everyone will see it.
Yes. Just as God has said.”

 6-8A voice says, “Shout!”
I said, “What shall I shout?”

   “These people are nothing but grass,
their love fragile as wildflowers.
The grass withers, the wildflowers fade,
if God so much as puffs on them.
Aren’t these people just so much grass?
True, the grass withers and the wildflowers fade,
but our God’s Word stands firm and forever.”

 9-11Climb a high mountain, Zion.
You’re the preacher of good news.
Raise your voice. Make it good and loud, Jerusalem.
You’re the preacher of good news.
Speak loud and clear. Don’t be timid!
Tell the cities of Judah,
“Look! Your God!”
Look at him! God, the Master, comes in power,
ready to go into action.
He is going to pay back his enemies
and reward those who have loved him.
Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock,
gathering the lambs in his arms,
Hugging them as he carries them,
leading the nursing ewes to good pasture.

 12-17Who has scooped up the ocean
in his two hands,
or measured the sky between his thumb and little finger,
Who has put all the earth’s dirt in one of his baskets,
weighed each mountain and hill?
Who could ever have told God what to do
or taught him his business?
What expert would he have gone to for advice,
what school would he attend to learn justice?
What god do you suppose might have taught him what he knows,
showed him how things work?
Why, the nations are but a drop in a bucket,
a mere smudge on a window.
Watch him sweep up the islands
like so much dust off the floor!
There aren’t enough trees in Lebanon
nor enough animals in those vast forests
to furnish adequate fuel and offerings for his worship.
All the nations add up to simply nothing before him—
less than nothing is more like it. A minus.

 18-20So who even comes close to being like God?
To whom or what can you compare him?
Some no-god idol? Ridiculous!
It’s made in a workshop, cast in bronze,
Given a thin veneer of gold,
and draped with silver filigree.
Or, perhaps someone will select a fine wood—
olive wood, say—that won’t rot,
Then hire a woodcarver to make a no-god,
giving special care to its base so it won’t tip over!

 21-24Have you not been paying attention?
Have you not been listening?
Haven’t you heard these stories all your life?
Don’t you understand the foundation of all things?
God sits high above the round ball of earth.
The people look like mere ants.
He stretches out the skies like a canvas—
yes, like a tent canvas to live under.
He ignores what all the princes say and do.
The rulers of the earth count for nothing.
Princes and rulers don’t amount to much.
Like seeds barely rooted, just sprouted,
They shrivel when God blows on them.
Like flecks of chaff, they’re gone with the wind.

 25-26“So—who is like me?
Who holds a candle to me?” says The Holy.
Look at the night skies:
Who do you think made all this?
Who marches this army of stars out each night,
counts them off, calls each by name
—so magnificent! so powerful!—
and never overlooks a single one?

 27-31Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
or, whine, Israel, saying,
“God has lost track of me.
He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind.

Isaiah 40, The Message