Sunday August 15, 2021
Another school classmate died last week. David Scott died in Washington DC August 5.
It’s not as if we had been bosom pals all our lives. David Scott and I went through our first six grades together at a school in the foothills of the Himalayas. Then we lost touch.
I left India with my parents, and have only been back briefly. David, on the other hand, spent most of his working life in India -- four decades with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. He was professor of history of religions in theological colleges, a chaplain, and a study-center director.
I didn’t get to know David again until I attended a school reunion some 40 years later.
Other classmates were much closer to him.
So I don’t write this column deep in grief. I write it because David’s death brings into sharp focus the harsh reality of growing older. We lose friends.
I’ve lost half a dozen friends and associates over the last year or so. Some of those deaths hurt. Really hurt. Other deaths were more ho-hum.
But they all made me aware of a smaller and smaller cohort of fellow travellers still on the same road with me.
Writing to one of David Scott’s best friends, I imagined life as a marathon. We all start out together, full of vim and vinegar, confident, enthusiastic, ready to tackle anything we encounter along the way. Gradually, our ranks thin out. Until we find ourselves, a few lonely stragglers, hobbling down a highway of increasing decrepitude.
Not a pretty picture.
A former Moderator of The United Church of Canada, Dr. Bob McClure, used to described visits to seniors’ centres as “an organ recital.” Not the musical organ. Rather, a recital of the malfunctions of people’s kidneys, hearts, livers, lungs, colons, eyes, hips, ears…
At our age, the mid-eighties, hardly anyone still runs on all their original equipment.
One friend has had both hips and both knees replaced. Another has had a double-lung transplant. Several have either had heart surgery or have electronic aids to keep their hearts pumping properly. Or have had sections of their intestines removed. Or had their vertebrae fused.
To say nothing of false teeth, glasses, and hearing aids.
I am, I like to think, in exceptionally good health. But I too have an artificial elbow.
When, I wonder, does a person become more a technological marvel than a human being?
Some of you will remember a TV program from the 1970s, The Six-Million Dollar Man. It presumed that an astronaut horribly mutilated in a crash could be rebuilt with artificial components. With his enhancements, Lee Majors could outrun a speeding car, leap over high fences, and fall from great heights without hurting himself.
To visualize these abilities, TV turned them into slow motion.
Ironic, isn’t it, that most recipients of artificial joints today also move in slow motion?
Brevity of life
But back to David Scott.
In many ways, David personified the qualities that the class of ’52 would like to attribute to the class as a whole. He was open-minded. Literate. Generous. Gentle. Patient. Perhaps above all, wise.
Granted, not all of us would claim all of those qualities. But we saw them in David, and hoped to see them in ourselves.
Just weeks before David’s death, he took part in another school reunion – a virtual reunion, because of COVID-19 restrictions. He was bright, lively, penetrating. He was, in other words, his usual self.
But those who knew him well knew he was having some troubles with his health. His wife Corinne took him to hospital. Three days later, he was gone.
You may have noticed that I don’t speak of him “passing away,” “passing on,” or – ugh! – “safe in the arms of Jesus.” That’s both a linguistic and a theological scruple of mine. Whatever I happen to believe – or not believe -- about life after death is irrelevant. I can only know for sure that his physical life has ended.
The Bible is not much help here.
It deals with lots of deaths. The six double-books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are largely a record of who killed whom, and why.
But only a limited number of verses support the idea of life after death. And some of them are questionable.
Only one book, Ecclesiastes, devotes itself to the inevitability of death as the end of life.
So I cannot know what has become of the person I knew as David Scott. I only know that he is no longer alive.
As a classmate’s son observed, “He leaves a hole in the world.”
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week I sent out two columns as a package. Most of the comments that came back dealt with the concept of continually accelerating change.
Isabel Gibson wondered “why we can't harness the power of accelerating change for intended ends, like being kind to each other. You'd think that could be a virtuous circle, spreading to more and more people and continually ratcheting up the standard.
“Maybe, in fact, that's what Steven Pinker is on about in his book on our better angels. Maybe the change is upon us.”
“My personal world [seems to have] taken a turn for the worse recently,” Laurna Tallman’s letter began.
She ended with a strong affirmation of optimism: “I also hear that the Best and the Worst is yet to come. That means that far more of the potential for good exists in these situations than is immediately evident to me. I must watch each day for the occasions that allow me to be supportive. I must also take events that are beyond my control as they come…
“If the Best as well as the Worst is yet to come, I hope to celebrate the Best and contribute to it. Perhaps that is the only insurance to be obtained against the onset of the Worst. Let us remember that the good can grow exponentially, too, and at unimaginable speeds.”
Bob Rollwagen was somewhat more pessimistic: “If we reach Zero carbon emissions today, scientists say it would be twenty years before we would see any impact. But this is not going to happen. Goals are being set for 2050. Things will keep getting warmer …o but what does 30 years of getting warmer look like, and when we get there, that becomes the new norm for at least 1000 years. Apparently, it will take 10,000 years to get back to where we are today. I guess we need to start pulling in the same direction today and reach zero sooner.”
Michael Jensen: “Yes, even more challenges will be thrown at us. We need to ask ourselves, what can we learn from Covid? [And other emergencies: JT] We'll have better protocols ready for the next pandemic. But what about other catastrophes? We need to ask ourselves, what have we learned about how to deal with the unknown and unexpected?
“I suggest we need to turn to constants in our lives, like the love of God and His miracles in our lives. We also need the strength of family and close friends. Relationships with God, family, and friends will help us through the coming changes.”
Skip Peerless is Canadian living in Florida “to enjoy the weather, not the politics,” he writes. “I sent your excellent article about freedom, Republicans and the COVID virus to several American friends & neighbours. The response surprised me. Fury. Condemnation. Howls of ‘freedom & liberty’ and charges that as a Canadian I couldn’t possibly understand the perfection of the American Constitution & American exceptionalism. Sad. Dangerous!”
Jim Bodkin might have been writing about today’s column, not last week’s: “I do not believe in life everlasting but I do think that aspects of us continue on as a legacy of our genetic heritage.
“At age 23 I went to a family reunion and was puzzled by so many people coming up and saying how much like my Dad I was ... I walked and stood the same way, I talked like him and I had similar gestures. I never knew my Dad; he was a Spitfire pilot and KIA several months before I was born. The last time my relatives had seen him was when he got his wings -- at age 23!”
Jim went on to note other genetic similarities in his extended family, and concluded. “I think some of the Eastern religions who talk about rebirth in various guises are actually referring to the genetic transmission of physical/personality/mental characteristics rather than Nirvana.”
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