“Like a watch in the night” | WORLD
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“Like a watch in the night”

An email from an old friend brings to mind how fleeting even a long life is

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AARON SORKIN TOLD THIS JOKE at the 2012 Syracuse University Commencement:

Two boys were born and placed side by side in the hospital nursery. Later, by odd coincidence they found themselves in adjacent beds in a nursing home. One of them turned to the other and said, “So whadja think?”

A smattering of older folks in the audience laughed.

Not so much having burned my bridges behind me as left them unattended, I lost touch with all classmates since we snatched our diplomas and ran. (A couple of years ago I wrote about Mary B., whose death I rather accidentally learned of while in Brooklyn.)

Then Gloria shows up, breaches my Facebook-snubbing privacy wall, and emails: “Wow, I am glad that Paulette gave me your email. … Can you believe we are in our 70s? Our parents never looked this good at our age, ha ha. Where are you living now? I have been in Western Massachusetts for over 40 years. Hope you get this and write back. Gloria [(maiden name) married name.]”

I emailed back asking if she could still hurl a ball to home plate with pinpoint accuracy, and mentioned the column I once wrote (“Diamonds in the Sky”) about our softball team. And how in seventh grade when she sat behind me, while the teacher droned on she’d be cracking me up in mocking French Canadian about her cat. She reminded me of how after the new school building opened in 1960 we broke into the abandoned one. I said I even remember what I wrote on the board that day in an empty upstairs classroom:

“He who has God and nothing else is in need of nothing …” I told her I didn’t know where that came from in my head, but that in later years I became a Christian for real.

Gloria’s backstory on the cats (her family lived in the woods and had a mouse problem) was in the same paragraph as “My husband passed three years ago after 45 years of marriage.” For my part, I buzzed through statistics of first and second marriages along with numbers and ages of children in one undifferentiated string of words—as if there were any equivalency to any of these things.

That’s the odd thing about the view from 70 that youngsters don’t yet know. Marriages that lasted 45 years are now as over as are the cat jokes in seventh grade, the break-in at the elementary school in fourth grade, and St. Joe’s softball seasons, sacrilegious as it seems to say it. Even the longest life and its dramas are, in septuagenarian hindsight, “like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4) and our years “like a dream” (verse 5).

The Apostle Paul draws wisdom from it: “Let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

In other words: Keep a loose grip on the nice things, for they will soon be over. Bear with the not-so-nice things, for they will soon be over.

A friend recently sought my counsel regarding a Christian couple she is working with. The wife wants to stay married. The husband wants out, claiming verbal and emotional abuse. I didn’t have much to say to my friend beyond what Paul said two millennia ago: “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7).

As for my newly resurfaced school chum, I hoped that the hint about my becoming a Christian in later life would be a little seed I could water later, but I haven’t heard back from her and it’s been a while. In our brief exchange I let her have the last word, which expressed my sentiments exactly:

“I always thought it would take longer to get old. … Take care. Gloria.”

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her columns have been compiled into three books including Won’t Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides near Philadelphia.


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