In the dark wood

“In the middle of the journey of my life I found myself in a dark wood, and though I finally seem to have reached its far edge and started to make my way back into the light, one thing hasn’t changed: the people that I love keep dying on me. I noticed to my surprise a few years ago that most of my closest friends were now a good deal younger than I am. This is one of the gifts middle age gives us to compensate for that which it takes away, and I’m as grateful for it as I can be. Still, no gift, however generous, can possibly make up for the empty feeling with which we say farewell to the kindly men and women who once upon a time helped to show us what we were.” Terry Teachout

Terry Teachout died yesterday (January 13, 2022) at the age of 65. He was a gifted writer, author of books, and a drama critic for the Wall Street Journal.

He was a man who had the courage to face up to the fact that this life, like the plays he loved, has both a beginning and an end. The final words will be spoken, the curtain will come down, and the theater lights will be extinguished. And, because we have never seen this play before, we can never know when the final act will be performed.

Like Terry Teachout, I have realized that my closest friends are mostly younger than I am, and that many of the people I grew up with, people who were mentors or companions or family, are no longer living. There are even quite a few my own age, classmates from high school, for whom the last act played out sooner than any of us thought it would.

I’ve been wondering lately how much time I have left. And I have realized that the answer is likely “not very much.” I’m somewhere in that dark wood, which is a reference from Dante:

“In the middle of the journey of our life/I found myself in a dark wood,/for the straight way was lost.”

I’ve never been frightened by the woods and I don’t believe I’m frightened of dying. Rather, I’ve developed a sense of urgency, maybe a lack of patience with the normal pace of daily life. The clock seems to be ticking loudly in my head and I want to be sure to get things finished, and finished well, before the curtain closes. I haven’t created a “bucket list”; that seems too self-centered, too trite somehow. Instead, I’ve been talking to God a lot more and asking questions, like: what should I be doing with the time I have left?

“O Lord, you alone are my hope. I’ve trusted you, O LORD, from childhood. Yes, you have been with me from birth; from my mother’s womb you have cared for me. No wonder I am always praising you! My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection. That is why I can never stop praising you; I declare your glory all day long. … Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me. Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the highest heavens. You have done such wonderful things. Who can compare with you, O God?” – Psalm 71:5-8, 18-19  (NLT)

I’m in this play because God cast me. I’m doing my best to follow his direction, to read his lines, because I want to be part of the great dramatic pageant that he has created. And now that I’m old and gray, I want to continue to play my part well, to use the gifts and blessings that he has given me to his praise and glory. To proclaim him to the generations that will follow me. To honor him with whatever is left of my breath and life. To enjoy, truly enjoy, being on this stage with so many wonderfully talented men and women.

And yet, I’m definitely hiking through a very dark forest with no idea what might be ahead. And that’s okay.

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