Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Life goes on

Back when I was around 35, we moved into the neighborhood where I now live. It was a fairly large old wood-frame house, built in the 1880s, near a creek, but far enough back from the creek that we wouldn’t be bothered by flooding. It was on a street that had just recently been an old dirt road; it was paved, I think, because over time, it ended up becoming a kind of shortcut between one place and another.

Our house was one of several old family homes that had been built when the area was a coal mining area (the mines are long closed off), and the families had owned the homes for at least a couple of generations, if not more.

Not our immediate neighbors, but in the second house down from us was one of those families that had owned not only a house (vintage 1880) but a very large piece of property that they had put to very good use. Probably an acre or two (along this creek), it was relatively level, and they had grown huge gardens (as I understand it) in the past, but in more recent years, they had just let it be “the field”. It was a nice grassy level area where the kids could and did play football and softball and a lot of other things that kids do.

The family was Italian. The father, who may have been a low-level criminal and owner of the property, had died some time before we moved in. The mother, Mary, was getting on in years, and so she sold the house to her daughter Susie and son-in-law Danny, with the understanding that she would always have a place to live.

Even though theirs was an old house, it was well-cared for. Susie’s older sister, Kathy, recently divorced at the time, had two young children. She spent most of her time at this house. She was probably the primary care giver for the mother, Mary.

Danny and Susie had two young sons of their own, probably around the same ages as my two older boys (my oldest son was aged seven, and in the middle of those two). I had three kids when we moved into the neighborhood. It was the first house we lived in.

There was a long driveway along the upstream the side of the house (the field was downstream). From where we lived, we could easily see a covered pavilion at the end of this driveway, and next to it, immediately behind the house, was a beautiful in-ground pool.

My wife, Beth, being the woman with the anger problem that she was, got into a tussle with Kathy about the kids soon after we moved in. But not long after that, she noticed the pavilion, and the nice homey set-up with the tables and chairs under it, and the fire pit nearby, and of course the opportunities for swimming during the days, and the socializing in the evenings, and they quickly became best friends.

Kathy and Susie had a couple of other sisters, including Donna, who turned out to be the oldest, and Bev, who lived in a small brick house just up the hill behind the pool. They had a brother, Dickie, too, who had long had kidney problems (from an abusive situation from the father). He had had a kidney transplant at one point. And my wife, in fact, was soon adopted as one of the sisters.

The pavilion and the pool were a way of life. There was always good food, and lots of beer. Kathy took care of Mary. Susie and Donna worked just up the hill at the Bettis plant (in low-level administrative positions); Danny and Dickie worked construction job for the same company, and we all got together frequently in the evenings.

In 1995, Beth and Bev were both pregnant … Beth with our 4th son, John, and Bev with her first son, Joe. In fact, Beth was pregnant when we moved there. These were the best years of Beth’s life. Our kids were small, they played nicely together, and I worked at home and made a good income. When we first moved there, I had a pretty good job as an advertising manager for a fairly large national company; later I quit that job and started a small business as sort of a one-man ad agency.

We all had big yards where the kids could run and play and go swimming during the summer vacations. I owned a Mac computer, and video games were just then starting to come to personal computers. (I played a little “indy” game called Escape Velocity; later I played Dust and Titanic, for hours on end).

Things have moved on a bit. We had to move out of the upstream house in 1997, but we were able to move into a small brick house, downstream (where I still live. We’ve had three floods here over the years). But things never were the same as they were from that 1995-1997 period.

There was 9/11/2001, which “changed everything”. Mary died in 2003, when my wife was in the Army in Iraq. Danny had a drinking problem, not really evident during our socializing years, but over time it came to the surface. He and Susie had some financial troubles as a result, and they divorced. Susie declared bankruptcy and moved out. Danny never was able to recover from his drinking problem, and the related ills it caused in his life, and he shot himself in the heart about a year ago, maybe two. Dickie and his wife have both passed away in the meantime.

Last night, I was at a funeral home, and I saw all the girls for the first time in a while. Donna had passed away, having fallen and broken her femur a year earlier. She was 66. Her husband Tom has been suffering for years from a serious dementia. Recently, he didn’t even know who Donna was. (He is having some good care). Donna was stubborn, they say. She “just gave up”; she never walked after breaking her leg, and she passed away quietly at the hospital, after having some seizures.

My wife, as many may know, suffered leukemia in 2011; she had a bone marrow transplant in December of that year, which healed her from the leukemia, but she died in 2015. All the kids are grown and, except for my youngest, who is 14 (and named after Danny – we call her Dani), are in their 20s. Some married, some didn’t.

Back in the day, Donna had been the wealthy sister – she had no kids, and she and her husband Tom both worked. Kathy, the divorcee, was destitute. Last night, it was evident that Donna’s life was the tragic one. Kathy met a guy, Bill, and the two of them have been traveling and on cruises in recent years.

Interestingly, Hawk just posted a piece on Schreiner’s take on Ecclesiastes.

The Preacher advises, "There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?" (2:24–25). The Preacher is not counseling readers here to live an unrestrained, hedonistic life; rather, he is saying that human beings must live one day at a time and enjoy each day for the pleasures it brings. This is not an isolated theme, for the Preacher revisits it in 3:11–13 "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man."

God has so designed life that human beings see the glory and beauty of God in the world he created. But life in the world also eludes human comprehension, such that there is no evident pattern or plan in history. Vanity and futility and absurdity characterize human life. Instead of trying to figure out how everything fits together, human beings should take pleasure in God's gifts. There is a humility in accepting each day from God's hand and thanking him for the joys that he grants.

Life goes on. It surely does.


  1. Thanks for sharing. I am 33 and while I am quite young I often rue my career choices in the past 10 years - I also hate the fact that I was far more naive than my peers about a lot many realities of life (moreso on personal relationships). Because of my young age, I am often harsh on myself by reminding me that I have wasted 30% of my life in bad (career) decisions. lol. If that is not worse than consider that I have wasted most of my adult life in not knowing where my future really lied. The guilt of time wasted is quite immense at times given the high expectation I have from myself.

    Point is that unless God calls me home sooner, I have plenty of time to get the ball rolling, and relatively easily fixed bad career decisions, and deep down I know that. But the time I have right here and now - I can never relive it again. Your life story just reminds me that there is so much more to experience and learn from from life. This is why I agree that the book of Ecclesiastes is so very practical in its teaching. It also brings to mind what the Lord himself on worrying. Its as if these verses jump out and speak to me every time I read them.

    1. Hi James, thanks for your comment here. Try not to be too hard on yourself ... I try to keep in mind that "The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps."

    2. James, if it makes you feel any better, It took me until I was 37 to return to the Christianity I had left at 16. It took me another 4-6 years after that to truly start grounded my faith in Christ. I'm 56 now. And I would add that there is no such thing as wasted time. You may have spent more time learning lessons than you think you should have. But such lessons tend to be remembered. I do not know why God has lead you on the path you have experienced but I can say with utmost belief, it was the best & shortest path for you :)