A while back my husband and I went for a ride in the mountains near our home. The road was rough with large boulders in the path, streams to cross, steep grades and numerous rock slides. Yet there were moments when we’d come around a bend in the road and suddenly there was our own private preview into heaven . . . deep green pines nestled in golden quaking aspen paired with brilliant splashes of red maples.
Quite unexpectedly snow fell the next day - soft and deep. Luminous leaves turned brown and the breathless mystery of a Rocky Mountain autumn was gone. Mountain trails closed and a harsh winter of white and waiting was upon us.
A few days later I walked into our church and saw my neighbor Bill seated in a chair next to his wife’s casket with his head bowed.
"I don't know what to do without Ann," Bill wept as I wrapped my arms around his neck. He died two weeks later.
While I sat at the kitchen table with Ann’s daughters planning her funeral, I looked into their beautiful dark eyes and saw glimpses of their petite Italian mother staring back at me. I realized the best parts of Ann lived on. At the funeral her children remembered their mother’s soft hands and her famous spaghetti dinners. In the end, it seems it is the little things we do for each other that turn out to be the big things.
As her grandchildren and great-grandchildren sang I Am a Child of God at her funeral, I knew Ann’s efforts to love and nurture her family had born fruit. Though she sometimes felt discouraged with her efforts, in the end she had led her posterity a little closer to heaven.
The seasons of life pass quickly. How brief each moment, each life. Death is waiting around the corner for us all. We can not dismiss or ignore death without losing the key to love. As winter increases our appreciation for summer and fall, so death intensifies our love for each other. We are always aware that those we care for will not always be with us.
Life is excruciatingly short. Our appearance on this stage is brief - our tenuous entrance and exit nearer together than we suppose. Like restless leaves trembling in the autumn air, a precious life is here one moment, then gone on the next breeze. Eventually we will all be separated from those we love.
I've heard it said that we die when we've learned what we came to learn or when we've taught what we came to teach. Perhaps we must do both. We are each given an equal endowment of twenty-four hours a day. What makes life precious is that we don’t know how much time we have left. Not knowing gives our fragile existence urgency. We feel the constant stirring to use our inheritance wisely - to live and love as if there is no tomorrow.
On the day of Ann’s funeral I watched the last leaf fall from the willow tree and rest softly on her lawn. Then a light snow fell. Winter and separation had come - but not to stay. Like the closing of the day and the setting of the sun, rebirth and reunion await the dawn. Spring will come again.