This month I’ve had a near-death experience. Almost. Kind of. What happened is that I’ve paid a visit to Vancouver, a city Sarah and I have lived in for 3 years, but which we had not visited for almost 5 years. It was an endearing, surreal experience, which made me think about time, death, and life.
I first thought about the nature of time on the way there. The plane left Amsterdam at 1:30 pm and arrived in Vancouver at 2:30 pm: one hour later even though we flew for 10 hours. The sun shone brightly the whole way through, as we flew almost at the Earth’s speed. It was a long, bizarre day, my body apparently suspending the biological rhythm and need for sleep and food until it figured out what was taking place. I got a lot done on that plane, I’ll tell you, but I’m glad our usual days have 24 hours. 27 hours would be nice too–long lunch break (or two lunches!), an extra hour to catch up with the final duties that always seem to get left to the next day, some reading time later–but 24 are just fine, actually.
I got emotional at the airport, arriving back to a place Sarah and I once looked so fondly toward, counting the months to the day we would arrive at as our first home as a married couple. I remembered the “Welcome home” sign that meant so much to us when we first moved there, the sights and hopes for what would happen next.
Which brought to this trip some curious thoughts about death. It felt like revisiting a former life, like looking back to the sum of our memories and experiences, at least those that took place in that specific phase. How was our life here? What has shaped us most? What have we left behind? What stands the test of time? I could visit dear friends, and feel the absence of friends who have moved on to other places too. I could see the teenagers I then pastored now all grow-up and with firm voices. I could touch the places where I once conceived dreams and a vision for the future, to plant a church in Rome, and now look back to that implemented vision. This trip felt like a cautionary tale: like a chance to look back to a phase like one day I’ll look back to the whole of my life. And I am so glad we’ve lived well, at least those 3 years.
On Wednesday I went to speak to the group of seniors I sometimes spoke to in Vancouver. The group was smaller this time – some have passed away, others are too frail to leave their homes. One of them, Mary, could not come, but made an effort to come on Sunday to give me a special hug. After the hug, she looked at me with eyes shining with grandmotherly love and said, “I’m 91 now. I may not be here the next time you come back. But I’ll see you in heaven.”
You bet, Mary. If not here, I’ll see you there. And I hope I’ll live well in the meantime. I hope to have as much life as you.