We’ve all had our “reality check” moments, some fleeting, some permanent. An event that shakes us to our core, jolting us from our reverie. Surviving an “unsurvivable” accident. The kind that moves us from the momentary, temporal side of the ledger, to more permanent things. Perchance toward the eternal realm. The loss of a spouse. The sheer devastation from a tornado that ripped every material thing from one’s tightly held grasp in an instant. Or a ruptured lifetime relationship, gone sour. In our youth, we were all “bullet proof,” and rebuffed advise on healthy lifestyles, pursuing our own recalcitrant ways. Reality intervenes. Our journey to that “reality check” is uniquely our own. However, the final outcome is ubiquitous. It’s just a matter of time.
Few events penetrate our superficial veneer like a funeral. The stark reality that there’s an end to this life as we comprehend it. At a recent funeral, the eulogizing pastor spoke of the deceased’s “empty wheel-chair,” to which she had been confined for many years. He confessed, it was “a reality check.” She would not again be among the congregation. He provided solace and comfort to the grieving family, and faithful, predicting “she was in a better place,” no longer subject to suffering from the insidious malady that claimed her earthly life. The pre-eminence of God’s word and His presence is a balm for the grieving, weary soul.
An “empty chair” in a furniture store is inconsequential. Not in a home. A perpetually “empty chair” at the dinner table. Many of us occupy a chair in our abode that we prefer. In fact, we may even label it “our chair.” A place of respite, to call our own, where we deign to muse, dream, nap, read, reminisce, weep, fret or pray. Loved ones grow accustomed to seeing our visage there. It’s familiar ground. Yet one day that image will be gone-forever. The Psalmist captured the brevity of our existence, “Man’s life is a breath, his days are a fleeting shadow.” Years ago it was only a verse. Today it’s a “reality check.” The first line of a poignant poem, “The Loom of Time,” begins, “Man’s life is laid in the loom of time, To a pattern he does not see, While the weavers work and the shuttles fly Till the dawn of eternity.” The final verse provides perspective, “The dark threads were as needful, In the weaver’s skillful hand, As the threads of gold and silver For the pattern which He planned.” Psalm 23 wasn’t penned in “sunny valley.”
For political junkies in Wyoming, few events jump-start the “old ticker” like the primaries, as a host of aspirants woo potential voters with a broad array of enticing messages, opposing or supporting issues that are near and dear to the voter’s heart, in key house and senate districts. One would have to be nearly comatose to ignore the hotly contested U.S. Congressional seat that’s up for grabs, attracting a stable of candidates. It’s compelling to many, but pale in comparison to life’s more daunting challenges. Not that running an honorable and ethical campaign is unremarkable. In fact, there’s a noble component to statesmanship. Legions ignore the political realm. Some try to diminish the “empty chair.” None will escape it.
Again we’re reminded that a multi-million dollar nest egg is no hedge against life’s harshest barbs. Neither opulence nor a life of leisure exempts one from those fiery darts. In the face of losing a loved one, one may be beleaguered. Some flee to precipitancy, embracing noxious behaviors to cope, such as drugs, alcohol, psychiatrists, “easy religion,” or worse. Some blame God. The wise run to Him. Under a cloud of angst and pain, we often lack the wisdom to know what’s worthy. That’s His tutelary realm.
Reaching critical mass, we ask, “Is it worth it all?” Most conclude it is. Given the precarious nature of a fragile life, it may compel us to look beyond ourselves. During such times we discover that a hand gently placed on a shoulder comforts those who are burdened.. It won’t abrogate the pain. However, someone sagely defined comfort, “It pulls up a chair beside the pain, until it ends its stay.” Be certain, we’ll need an anchor during the torrent of life. Is it true that trials and tribulation tend to reveal our toughness, or our soft underbelly?
To persevere in this turbid world, finding rest for our soul is appealing. The question is, “Where do we go?” The answer is life altering-for good or ill. Reality checks arrive in surprising forms. C.S. Lewis observed, “Reality is not neat, not obvious, not what we expect.” Rapidly declining health may be one’s reality check. Fortunately, we’re benefactors of advanced medical technology that tends to prolong life. Despite its salutary advances, it holds no solace for the soul.
There’s no surcease to the “empty chairs” in one’s life. Someday we’ll leave our own “empty chair” behind. Is there a hedge against this inevitable event? Borrowing from London-born John Newton, former slave trader ship captain, turned abolitionist, his composition, “Amazing Grace,” sung by saint and sinner, assuages our trepidation, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believed!” None are beyond His reach.
One must acknowledge that an “empty chair” is sad. Sadder yet is an “empty life.” We hold no sway over the grave of those who’ve passed, despite our tears and pleading. Yet, with a fervent prayer, we can transcend this age old dilemma. The temporal was designed so we would yearn for the eternal. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org