When I opened up my weekly Kiwanis bulletin recently, the "Thought for the Week" jumped off the page at me before I could pick up my fork. Tom Cunningham wrote: "This is not a dress rehearsal. This is it". I had just been re-reading Life Lessons by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, a book that should be required reading for all adults. I had been meditating on the last paragraph in the book:
"You don't get another life like this one. You will never again play this role and experience this life as it's been given to you. You will never again experience the world as in this life, in this set of circumstances in quite this way, with these parents, children, and families. You will never have quite this set of friends again. You will never experience the earth with all its wonders in this time again. Don't wait for one last look at the ocean, the sky, the stars, or a loved one. Go look now".
That is a sobering thought for those of us who think (or act like) we are going to live forever in this dimension. Before his death in 1981, writer William Saroyan phoned in to the Associated Press a final Saryanesque observation:
"Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?" There are no exceptions! Ultimately we lose everything we have: money, houses, land, youth, and finally that last loss, life in this world. Everything we have, including our loved ones, are on loan to us - not ours to keep. Kubler-Ross and Keesler remind us that all intangibles, such as dreams, youth and independence, will ultimately fade or end. Like our belongings, they never were ours to keep.
"Our reality here is not permanent. Everything is temporary". We do not like to think like that. Shakespeare is blunt about the temporary nature of life. "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances". (As You Like It) More poetically: "Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney-sweepers, come to dust". (Cymbaline)
Sometimes we play with the thought of having a ‘replay' of all or part of life. "If I had my life to live over". You don't. Some go at it another way by playing the ‘what if' game. What if I had married a different person, pursued a different vocation, been more careful, moved to a different city or state? You didn't. No replays. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam succinctly reminds us: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on: not all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it". This is it - no replays.
We move inexorably toward the end of life in this dimension. Unless you hold to the idea of reincarnation, this is it. Some of us hold firmly to the idea of an existence beyond death, but it will be in a different form.
There are times in all of our lives in which we wonder about the meaning of life. Things happen that cause even the most resolute to wonder if there is any discernible meaning. Some days life seems like a ‘Paris Island Boot Camp' in which we are being prepared for we know not what. While some of us stumble on without reflecting on the meaning and purpose of life, things happen now and then that awaken us to the importance of that quest.
In his book, When All You Have Ever Wanted Isn't Enough, Rabbi Harold Kushner tells of a man who called him one day and asked for an appointment to discuss a ‘religious question'. That can mean almost anything from "why God permits evil" to the question of "where does the stepfather of the bride sit during the wedding'. But that day, that man had a real question - about something very spiritual. This is what he said to Rabbi Kushner:
"Two week ago, for the first time in my life, I went to the funeral of a man my own age. I did not know him well, but we worked together, talked to each other from time to time, had kids about the same age. He died suddenly over the weekend. A bunch of us went to the funeral, each of us thinking it could just as easily have been me. That was two weeks ago. They have already replaced him at the office. I hear his wife is moving out of state to live with her parents. Two weeks ago he was working fifty feet away from me, and now it is as if he never existed. It is like a rock falling into a pool of water. For a few seconds, it makes ripples in the water and then the water is the same as it was before, but the rock is not there any more. Rabbi, I have hardly slept at all since then. I cannot stop thinking it could happen to me, that one day it will happen to me, and a few days later I will be forgotten as if I had never lived. Should not a man's life be more than that?"
I do not know the person with whom Rabbi Kushner counseled, but I have seen him - or her - once or twice a week for the last 60 years.
It is by faith and spiritual heavy lifting that we discover some purpose in life. For some it comes from a life-time quest, and every now and then, for some, it may come like ‘a blinding light on the road to Damascus', and reality suddenly dawns on us. In her book My Grandfather's Blessings, Rachel Remen, M.D. poses a profound question: "Is it possible that there may be an unknowable purpose to life itself?" Perhaps so. There is so much yet to be revealed to us.
The Bible and life constantly remind us that this life is not a dress rehearsal. This is it! Use it, every minute and every day of it. You may be forgiven for the past, but you do not get to redo it. No replays, instant or otherwise.
This is it. Get on with it.