[A recently submitted column for the Parksville-Qualicum News]
So, I’m at the dump unloading yard waste out of the back of my truck. I had just completed some fairly serious pruning that I’d been avoiding for too long and the truck was full. As I was dragging the branches out I nodded at the elderly gentleman next to me who was taking bags of leaves out of the trunk of his car. He nodded in return and we both continued with our tasks. He suddenly announced, “I’m done!”—which I took as an invitation to converse—and we engaged in a brief chat. He volunteered that this was his last task before he entered an assisted care facility. It was clear that this move was not his preferred option, repeating that he was “done,” and that this comment was more than announcing that he had finished his last bag of leaves. I was left with the distinct impression that he viewed this change in living arrangements as a defeat. Life was seeming to be coming to a disappointing and unsatisfactory conclusion. I offered some encouraging words about his new home—I have friends at that address who have found it most enjoyable—but I don’t think he was especially convinced. Eventually we wished each other well, he drove away, and I finished my work. I remain disenchanted with pruning.
From my professional and personal experience, I believe it fair to say that few of us have the lives we expected. We can carefully plot our course, but the execution of the plan is invariably challenged by all sorts of forces beyond our control. Health, politics, social change, loss, relationships, and more all have a habit of shifting the ground we once believed would be firm. Adaptation becomes critical and sometimes, that revision of the plan is hard. So, I have some sympathy for the man at the dump. Still, the question remains: is he “done?” I don’t think so. With some friends I am presently re-reading the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes which begins with the assertion that life is meaningless, vanity. Thankfully, the author’s musings on existence develop beyond that bleak initial observation and eventually shift in the light of the reality of God. Indeed, with God we are never “done” and there is meaning to be found in the most unexpected, surprising places.
An aging church consultant I follow recently asserted his refusal to slip into the “done” trap. He vowed, as he entered retirement, that he would not embrace the idea that he had “done his time” in his church life. He pointed out that congregational involvement is not analogous to a prison sentence: discipleship is never to be “two years less a day.” We may alter the way we serve—energy, resources, and time will inevitably change the equation—but we aren’t “done” until we prayerfully draw our last breath. Until then there is life to be had, life to be shared. And even then we trust that there will be one more surprise.