We have enjoyed many visitors this summer! Two of the visitors (who came at separate times) made our house the last stop on their summer trips, which meant they were wiped out and exhausted when they arrived. Their visits were still fun, but it reminded me about how vacations can take a toll – physically and financially. I also remember when we were flying to CA and a flight attendant shared about the best and worse trips – for her, they were the up and down trips to and from Las Vegas – flying TO Las Vegas is one of the best trips because people have cash, hope, and positive energy. However, the return flight FROM Las Vegas is horrible because the former jovial folks are now broke, crabby and smelly.
Anyhow, another one of our summer visitors, my mother-n-law, just retired from teaching and as she moves into retirement mode after a meaningful career, well this got me thinking about endings – and about a special poem called Fiddler Jones (from Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology collection of epitaphs from residents of a small town).
Fiddler Jones has 40 acres of farmland, but he is never quite able to plow his fields or make a profit from his land – and he blames it on being a fiddler in a town that NEEDED his fiddling music.
The poem ends:
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle-
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories.
And not a single regret.
When you make a lot of small “right” choices along your life journey – well you end up with less regrets. This epitaph poem reminds us that we need to plan, but must also stay flexible as life unfolds. We have to be intentional about making sure we stay alive while we are still alive! Doing what you LOVE and having a life that is “fully alive” will still involve times of enduring – and times of making it through some average, lackluster feeling days – however, a fully alive life also leads to many fulfilled days as well- and yields a sense of satisfaction that cannot be bought! So try to make the most of unexpected circumstances (in art class we call them “happy accidents”) – and remember that sometimes the worse things that happen to us can also be some of the best things- because of the way situations sculpt us inside!
A fully alive life requires sacrifice at times – like making time for family – even if that requires multi-tasking trips to see as many folks as possible (like our guests did this summer)! And for us again this year, this means we will be spending precious vacation money on going back home instead of going somewhere fun (like Europe). But hey, the Eiffel tower will always be there – and family will not. And the character of Fiddler Jones inspires us because he knew the value of investing in others…. each time he postponed the tilling of his farm – and when he instead played his fiddle to bless others and connect with society – well he was better because of it! There is no way to measure the rippling effect of his outreach – but I bet the entire town was more alive because of his simple sharing.
In closing, here are some noteworthy epitaphs.
Ludolph van Ceulen: “3.14159265358979323846264338327950” (pi)
Lester Moore: “Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs from a 44, no Les, no more.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty I’m Free at Last.”
Spike Milligan: “Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite.” (This Gaelic epitaph is translated as “I told you I was ill!“)
Jesse James: “Murdered by a traitor and a coward whose name is not worthy to appear here.”
From a Maryland cemetery: “Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.”
~Have your teen write their “pretend” obituary (and/or epitaph). This is a sobering activity that really sculpts perspective about the brevity of life and helps students see the big picture of their own life!
~Talk about why the topic of death is possibly difficult for some folks to ponder (is it fear?). Some people get creeped out to even mention death, especially one’s own – but a light-hearted healthy discussion can lead to some important talks about faith, eternity, illness, unexpected tragedies, the preciousness of life, and the meaning associated with one’s legacy.
~Ecclesiastes 7:1 says, “A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.” Talk about what this means.
Talk about Romans 8:28 – and how not all things in life ARE good – but how things work FOR good. Many times significant events are the only way we can develop character and grit! We do not always grow when we stay comfortable – and comfort and easy does not always lead to long-term growth (that is essential to health).