I have a different concept of time than I did a year ago. It's the new math of my life, unexpected perquisite of this unwelcome gift that just keeps giving. The death of a spouse, one learns, is a package that comes full of surprises released one by one. There is the compression and distilling of one's life to a small measure, a synopsis visible at a glance, that whole business of a final reckoning. I have new insight into the heightened deathbed lucidity of old Jacob, lifting out of his sons' long years their salient, defining deeds. I have seen the Last Judgment ahead of the time.
The lesson of this year is finite numbers: There is a finite number of rainbows you will see in your lifetime, a finite number of full moons-and surprisingly few after all. A finite number of times you will walk into your husband's study and choose to stop and say "I love you," or just brush past for the book you were after.
At first, after he left, I was desperate to live longer, into my 70s at least, just to have a chance to make up for the ungodliness of the first 47 years. But almost immediately I was suspicious of that math-a little too tidy, cut and dry. And felt too much like that old salvation by works rearing its head again. Now I am embarrassed to think that I even entertained the idea of "making up" for things that way.
Here is a game you can play for months: Rake over the past, sift and tinker with it, trying to rewrite just one small part. What a terrible dignity is man's, that his every little word, carelessly strewn, should alter the configuration of the universe for all time-and even have repercussions into eternity.
Still, Paul gives a hint at a more encouraging math, an alien algebra, when he reveals that "as by the first Adam's sin death reigned, how much more by the second Adam's death will grace abound." There is something higher than my understanding, then. This is not a zero-sum game.
When I am feeling melancholy I gravitate to ancient cemetery plots. Here is a man who died full of years; here is one who died at 20. But the wind whistles over the one as the other, and there they lie-visited by no one, remembered by no one in the land of the living, as if they'd never strutted their hour upon this stage. "There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow." (Ecclesiastes 1:11) Where is the sting of "untimely" death now? Where is the tragedy of my husband's early passsing, from this vantage point two centuries later? What a negligible gain is 30 years more, in the eternal scheme of things. Is this not just Archimedes's theorem applied? "Give me where to stand, and I will move the earth"-and move perspective too.
Thirty years more? Depends what you do with the 30 years, methinks. Was Hezekiah so greatly benefited by the extra 16 he was granted for all his pitiful pleading? Who's to say, but all I know is that those years produced Manasseh, who did evil.
Chechen rebels beating a retreat from Grozny in February threw themselves on Russian landmines, sacrificing life to construct a human footpath for their fellow fighters amidst shouts of "Meet you in paradise!" It was the wrong god, but maybe they had the right idea. It's not the number of summers and winters you pile one atop the other; what an impoverished manner of calculation that is!
And who's to say that 80 mediocre years is better than a 4-month season of earnest repentance and seeking after God? What mathematician will produce the proofs for that? How much is the worth of one quiet, unseen act of faith or courage, weighed in the balance against a score of tepid years? Does anyone know the answer to that? Our prayers together got pretty monotonous toward the end: "Lord, when you look at me, do not see me but see the blood of Jesus covering me," we prayed 20 times if we prayed it once.
Jesus died at 33. Where is the man who will say, "Pity, what a tragedy to have been cut down in the prime of life"? Rather, will he not say, "Lord, grant me also a life that short if I will live it to Thee-rather than four score of cycles just marking time." I have one request and one alone, that "if I fainting be, Lord let me never, ever, outlive my love for thee."