By Norris Burkes
[F]irst, I need to assure you that my wife, Becky, only wears dead things around her neck during S-week. That’s the week she challenges her pre-kindergarten class of 4-year-olds to wear something that starts with the letter “S.”
The dead thing was a necklace her brother made from snake vertebrae and turquoise. It must sound terribly gross to the uniformed, but believe me it was a real attention-getter when she taught fourth grade.
Last year during S-week, my wife stood fingering her serpentine skeleton and asked, “Class, who knows what this is?”
One kid said, “Your fingers,” but that’s how literally little guys think.
“No,” Becky said. “This is a necklace made of snake bones, ‘Ssss,’ ” she said, making the snake hiss. “S-nake for S-week.”
“Ewww. Is it dead?” asked a prissy girl in the front row.
“How did it die, Ms. Burkes?”
“Things just die,” she said with a dismissive inflection.
The kids seemed unprepared for that word “die,” so I’m guessing “dead” never came up during D-week.
“Aww,” exclaimed a sympathetic boy.
“Do squirrels die?” asked a kinetic boy who often chases the figurative squirrels.
“Yes,” my wife said slowly. She was beginning to see this line of questioning as a stacked deck.
Hoping to draw a better hand, Becky called on a favorite, little Brayden, whose parents she sees regularly at the gym.
Braydon put his cards face up on the table. “Do people die?”
“Yes. Every living thing dies eventually,” she explained.
Just then, an eerie stillness paralyzed their up to now wiggly bodies. My wife offered what she hoped would be one last touching example. “My mom died.”
“Is my mom going to die?” Brayden asked.
“Oh, don’t worry.” Becky said. “My mom was much older than your mom.”
Of course, the question no one would dare ask was, “Will I die, too?”
As a hospice chaplain, I can tell you that the unquestionable answer to that unasked question is “yes.”
As we move through the holy season of Lent, we recall the wisdom of the one who made it clear that he was going to die. He knew the timing of his death and he knew how he would die. Yet his followers resisted his predictions despite his saying, “It’s appointed unto a man once to die and after this the judgment.”
Since those words were first recorded, many seek to emphasize the judgment part. Yet, I think there’s a deeper meaning. Jesus was calling us to live our lives with a heightened sense of expectation and joy. He wants us to live at peace with all men as well as our God.
Alcoholics Anonymous calls this kind of life, “Keeping your side of the street clean.” That means we can’t predict our lifespan, but we can choose the way we live our lives.
Still searching for meaning, those kids kept drilling their teacher.
“My grandmother is old,” chimed one. “Is she going to die?”
My wife had reached a dead end. This was the moment every public speaker knows, the point stage actors describe as “dying out there.”
She thought about quoting Ecclesiastes, “To everything there is a season … a time to be born and time to die.” But instead, she glanced at her watch and said, “Oh my, kids! It’s time for recess!”
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