What Will Our Epitaph Be?

What Will Our Epitaph Be?

Mike Pyatt

Someone once wrote, “God alone writes our epitaph!” As Sovereign, He surely could. With some familiarity with Scripture, it appears He permits us a measure of input in the final script. Consider Noah’s, “Noah did all that his Lord commanded him.” Or Elijah, “did all things according to God’s word.” What about ours? Thucydides claimed he paid his final tribute to Athens. As Christians, we understand that our final tribute is paid to Christ, who paid our debt. That’s a reason for rejoicing-not a life of loitering.

A purposeful life, some insist, is based upon the premise that we need to know why we’re on planet earth. Is it just to make a living? Send the offspring to the “best college?” Keep up with the Jones’s? Isn’t there more on this revolving orb? Many of us are sufficiently challenged to persevere in life’s ebb and flow. It’s no easy task to escape the shackles of banality and convention. What would be more grievous, or unalterable, than etched on our headstone, “He(She) Loitered Through Life.” Perish the thought. If we profess that Christ has a claim on our life, wherever he leads, our fingerprints should be all over it. God’s calling isn’t a suggestion.

Nineteenth century French poet and novelist, Victor Hugo, wrote, “Les Miserables,” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” quoted “To rove about, musing, that is to say loitering, is, for a philosopher, a good way to spend life.” He confirms that “loitering” isn’t merely a physical act. The term, primarily pejorative, isn’t as common in today’s vernacular. Yesteryear, it was routine in retail establishments, when a sign was prominently posted, “Positively No loitering!” In some locales such comportment may be prohibited by ordinance, or have the full force of the law with a monetary fine, compulsory free ride to the edge of town, or a complimentary night’s lodging in the local hoosegow.

Webster defines loitering, “to linger in an aimless way, spending time idly, without purpose.” German philosopher Von Goethe captured its essence, with a warning label, “Lose the day loitering, twill be the same tomorrow, and the rest more dilatory.” A nineteenth century term, albeit not an endearing one, was a “lay about.” Self explanatory. “A loafer, bum, or lazy; reluctant to move.” Today, the objects of such disdain identify themselves as drifters, “just chillin,” or, as Cousin Eddie’s wife Catherine, stated, “He’s been holding out for a management position.”

Decades ago, in the pre-CVS/Walgreen era, the local drugstore was a hub for shoppers in our westside Indianapolis neighborhood. Residents frequented it, run by a bespectacled part-time pharmacist, and full-time curmudgeon/grouch. He prided himself in offering an array of sundry items, magazines and comic books, augmented by a full service soda fountain. He strategically posted a “No loitering” sign above the magazines, comic books, and emblazoned on the wall above the soda fountain. That word was foreign to most kids. Parents translated it for us, “Kids don’t read the magazines or comic books; and you’d best buy something when you sit at the soda counter.” It was our first brush with being “undesirables.”

Then, and to a lesser degree contemporarily, anti-loitering was designed to discourage and reduce the number of “undesirables” and indolent from “just hanging around” places of commerce, protecting private and public meeting places from beggars, panhandlers or worse. NYC’s former mayor, Rudy Giuliani dramatically reduced crime, by simply enforcing ordinances already on the books, getting them off public streets and thoroughfares. Bus stations were a hotbed for loitering.

Today, it’s the public library. The lure of the internet, and a haven from extreme weather. In today’s environment large retailers welcome lingering, hoping to convert such behavior into a sale. Shoplifting is still frowned upon, and met with judicious action, to the extent local ordinances permit. With the exception of cowardly retailers in San Francisco, who are enablers, watching looters carry items out, with impunity.

More debilitating and pervasive than physical, momentary or serial loitering, is inward or spiritual loitering. One can be gainfully employed and highly compensated, yet experience a life devoid of purpose or meaning. Just marking time. Loitering doesn’t occur only on a street corner or park bench. How many of us have “loitered in prayer?” Finding ourselves groveling for words, catering to our own interest, or speaking to titillate the ears of the congregates, with our mind fixed on ignoble things, relying on reflex tendencies. Going through the motions, neither hot nor cold.

While one’s taking inventory of what path to take for a purposeful life, try the following questions; “What makes your heart beat faster? What keeps you up at night? What makes your blood boil? What noble cause would you willingly go to jail for?” It may not be a pursuit that will contribute on a global level. However, one can make a difference on a plane commensurate within one’s own reach. One may confine one’s labor of love, requiring a life of relentless research, or an idea that transforms a field of endeavor, like Pasteur, Salk or Ben Carson. On a different level as an indefatigable volunteer. An incorruptible public servant. Defend the unborn. Actively oppose evil. What about as a prayer partner, leaving an indelible mark on a solitary life?

Few possess the lofty lyrical talent or prolific pen of Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot or H.W. Longfellow. A few lines from Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life,” “Art is long, and Time is fleeting, And our hearts, though stout and brave, Still lie muffled drums, are beating, Funeral marches to the grave, In the world’s broad field of battle, In the bivouac of Life, Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in strife!” Though not a Longfellow, that shouldn’t hinder one’s pursuit of impacting our sphere of influence using our God-given resources. It will require a conscious, determined resolve to resist the unsubstantial mirage of chasing personal peace and affluence, revealing the enmity between our innate self-serving tendency, and a higher calling. Like to fish? Be a fisher of men.

A short poem attributed to Benjamin Franklin is apropos, “Mr. Meant-To,” says, “Mr. Meant To has a comrade, And his name is Didn’t Do; Have you ever chanced to meet them? Did they ever call on you?” It ends with, “Don’t be haunted by the ghost of Might-Have-Been.” Opportunities are endless-our earthly pilgrimage isn’t.

Pretense, pomposity and inanity, in the final analysis, dupes only the pretender, pompous, and inane. Someone dolefully observed, “One who falls in love with one’s self, never finds its equal.” Leave the Selfie-life behind. No talent? Giving demands none. We’ve heard it said, “For everyone to whom much is given, for him much is required.” For an alternative to loitering, Longfellow’s last line was penned, “Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursing, Learn to labor and to wait.” Retirement isn’t a bunker from life. There’s still time before that headstone’s chiseled. What do you think?

Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. Hs email’s mikepyatt44@gmail.com

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