Loose Ends and Life Eternal


05 Mar

My friend Karl Travis is actively dying. By that I mean he is leaning into the experience, including the injustice of a baffling illness that will take him from the world, in the physical sense at least, far too soon. The much admired and beloved Presbyterian pastor is leaning into the mystery. He is leaning into the inevitable sadness of what Karl calls “loose ends.”

From his recent essay:

I won’t grow old and cranky with Jaci. I won’t get to tease her as I lounge at the breakfast table that she’s not old enough to retire and I won’t get to kiss her on the steps of the Acropolis and I won’t get to take care of her when she’s ill and we won’t get to muse together about how longevity and wisdom somehow supplant even passion in time’s alchemy. Loose ends. Karl and Jacqueline Quinn Travis

Nor will I get to see my kids’ weddings. I won’t share embarrassing childhood stories about them at their rehearsal dinners and I won’t wait in the lobby as they deliver their children and I won’t get to remember their baptisms as I baptize their kids and I won’t marvel at their talents in service to God’s world. I won’t get to talk them through the transformations of the decades. Loose ends.

And I won’t know my grandchildren. I won’t get to teach them wet willies and I will never laugh when they pee in the backyard and I won’t smile mischievously and hand them back to their parents because I have grown tired of taking care of them. I will never read them bedtime stories or go to their soccer games or conspire to confront their parents about what they’re doing wrong while appearing not to do so. I’m just enough self-possessed to think, too, that my grandchildren will be somewhat different for missing out on time with me. Loose ends.

Karl’s essay continues from there, ultimately a hopeful Lenten epistle. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and read the entire piece here.

Among many things, Karl’s words inspired me to contemplate my own loose ends, the wonderful litany of moments that make my own life most worth living, and the things I would miss most if I wasn’t here to experience them. That was a deeply meaningful exercise.

And as I continued to think about what Karl wrote, I was surprised, pleasantly, to realize how much I believe this: I will live on after I’m gone, because I will linger in the hearts of those who I have known and loved and those who have loved me. I feel this palpably, this heart connection, heart reality, much more so than even a few years ago.

More than any other person, my father has taught me to believe this. He died of Alzheimer’s disease nine years ago, but our relationship very much continues. I’ve written about the healing that occurred over the years regarding he and I, healing and understanding which makes what we have today even sweeter, more meaningful.With my dad, Myke Madigan, at the Fort Worth Water Garden in the 1980s

Yes, my dad, this humble, broken but brave, decent, loving, honorable man, continues to be a daily, molecular, presence in my life, someone who inspires and comforts me and makes me feel less alone. He is me, or I am him, the soul of my soul. It is indeed almost a physical thing. Almost.

So isn’t it reasonable to expect that, after my death, a version of that same relationship will survive among those I have loved and who had loved me?

As my wife said this morning, “That’s what I’ve always thought of as eternal life.”

Karl, one of our world’s wisest people, knows this, too, I’m sure. But maybe he will tolerate a gentle reminder. Maybe he won’t be so tangibly a part of the weddings, rehearsal dinners, baptisms, Wet Willies and tinkling in the back yard (or maybe he will), but he will live on and on and on in so many hearts.

As will we all.

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