Thursday, September 14, 2017
“There is only one difference between a long life and a good dinner: that, in the dinner, the sweets come last.” — Robert Louis Stevenson
Living a long time is not necessarily a good thing (as Karen and I are discovering). In Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” there is a rarely read section about a floating island called “Laputa.” On this island, Gulliver sees an infant with a birthmark in the shape of star, and the people around it are all crying. Gulliver asks why and is told that the birthmark means the child belongs to a group called the Struldbrugs. Gulliver is then told that these people never die—they live forever, therefore the need for crying and sadness. Gulliver cannot believe this. He thinks living forever would be a great blessing and says so. He is told that this is not the case. Because Struldbrugs live forever, they see everyone they love die: parents, husbands, wives, children, and friends all pass away while they live on. Soon, they don’t want to even be around other people because if they get close to them, when they die, as they must, they are saddened and depressed once again. In the end, these Sturldbrugs become hermits and never come around other humans as it is too painful, such is the curse of immortality. Swift makes a point that all of us who have lived a long time (I consider 72 years a long time) already know. My father, at 85, used to complain that he had watched his parents, brothers, all but one sister, aunts, uncles, and even some nieces and nephews pass away. He outlived all of his close friends with only my mother beside him as he lived the last years of his life to die at 89 (a month away from 90). He understood the point Swift was making, as do I.
Karen and I have seen both sets of parents, all aunts and uncles save one, and many, many friends, former teachers, former professors, all shuffle off this mortal coil to join that eternal band beyond our reach. It should be enough to make us bitter, depressed, and not wanting to get close to people, like the Struldbrugs—except we have small orphans who need to be fed every day, and we have a call from God to answer to plant seeds, to save children’s lives, to feed those orphans, to help the weak, and so we do. It is sad to see so many go before us, but there are so many who are coming after us that we do them a great disservice if we do not do all that we can to make their lives better. We don’t want to live forever, but we do want to live for others until that last moment which God alone decides. And that is just what we shall do. Saw a Facebook post that said if what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger—then we should both be able to bench press a Buick. My cousin said that in Karen’s case, she could bench press a Hummer. We will not live forever, but while we are here—we will live for others. That’s God’s plan.