This summer was a high school reunion of mine. I didn’t go, but I saw pictures of high school friends who gathered. They certainly have aged! On their nametags were their high school pictures; that helped, but it also put me in a pensive mood. I imagined myself now sitting down across from my 17-year-old self seeing her eyes wide with eagerness to leave high school and enter adulthood, heart filled with hope and dreams of independence, and career, marriage, children, home-making. I imagined my 57-year-old self telling my 17-year-old self what the next 40 years actually held.
I’d say, “You’ll graduate college and become a school teacher. You’ll marrying a nice man, a good man, and raise two wonderful daughters. Your seventeen-year marriage ends in divorce when God calls you to enter ordained ministry. I know you don’t do public speaking and never thought of working in a church, but it happened. You served churches that loved you and one that didn’t. You took another chance on love, but a second marriage ended in failure also. Your heart will break watching one of your daughters struggle.”
Did those bright, eager eyes lose their sparkle when told their future? There was so much that was not part of the 17-year-old’s dream for herself. I pondered a while longer not realizing at the time how much an incident , a decision, an attitude, a perception , a misperception- would move my life into places that I never planned to go.
Then thought, my story isn’t over. What if my 97-year-old self could come and talk to my 57-year old-self today? What do I want her to say has happened these next forty years? Each day – each choice – we write our story. Even when we don’t realize it.
Every day is a page written; every week is a chapter finished. Every conversation, every day’s thoughts and perceptions, this is life. The moments are it. The moments add up, and our story is written.
Our scripture today tells of a man reviewing his life. Maybe his 97-year-old self is looking back on his story. He looks back and sees that he had it all- great works. He had a big house, beautiful gardens with a stunning water feature overlooking fruitful vineyard- sounds like his house would have made a feature article in Architectural Digest 8th century B.C. He acquired lots of gold, owned vast herds of animals and herds of slaves as well. He filled his life with entertainment – wine, women, and song. His reputation for wisdom and riches was known throughout the land. Sounds like successful obituary material.
Then his 97 year old self says to his 57 year old self, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the work I had spent in doing it, I thought about the time and the energy – the late nights at the office – the women and sex – the parties and wine. All of it, all was futile. It was like I had been chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
That’s it? It was all nothing.
I urge caution in reading Ecclesiastes. The book can be pretty depressing. Because after he starts the first chapter- futility, futility- all life is futility; he keeps saying over and over for the next twelve chapters. He tried to find meaning and purpose and delight in every way possible only to conclude it was all empty. So, why? Why read it? Why was it included in the Bible if you have to take an anti-depressant and remove all sharp objects before reading?
The book ends with an epilogue appearing to be penned by another author speaking of the wise Teacher’s writings. The Epilogue says there is wisdom to be gained in these sayings. “Listen up, young men, young women.” In a single verse, he concludes: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Know God and keep God’s commandments for that is the whole duty of everyone. In the end, that is life
In the end – as our 57-year-old selves speak to our 17-year-old selves – as our 97-year-old selves speak to our 57-year-old selves – as the wisdom of those who have gone before us is offered to us- as we review the ups and downs of our lives and the plans and realities of it, that we learn is what lasts – what makes a difference – the only thing that matters – is Love of God and love of others.
We write our stories every day by choosing the words of today and the actions of today. We can choose words that are encouraging and building up of others or words that are not. We write actions that are compassionate and kind and tender or actions that are not.
That is the sum total of our life.
Our life is what we do today. How do we Love God, today? Where do we revere the sacred today? How do we honor the earth as our Mother? What do we do with this gift – this sunrise – this breath? How do we show God’s love to neighbor today? How do we heal the division in our family or our country? How do we minister to those who are in fear and those who are grieving? How do we keep commandments to love and honor and care for those who are feeling more than the loss of a particular candidate but who are grieving something much, much bigger than that. How do we care for those who are grieving loss of faith in humanity – and those who are terrified threats of hate will touch them personally – and those who are watching parades of Klansmen and wondering who is safe, who can be trusted?
Our personal stories are woven into our family story and our neighborhood story and our city story and our state and national collective story. The Teacher’s reflections on his life reveals that being great again is not so great if it means we hate. A great economy – storehouses of gold – and vineyards producing great GNP- really isn’t great if we live in fear of our neighbors next door or the people across the globe. Great isn’t an economy built on the destruction of the earth. Great isn’t depriving people of health care. Great isn’t fancy houses, pools and gardens.
Great is the Love of God with us always. Great is our Love for God, and great is seeing Divine in all others. Great is healing and wholeness, dignity and care grounded in God’s Being which is visible in our life and extended to one another . That is the whole duty of everyone; that is life.
May it be so.