I was once a good boy scout and knew that I should always ‘be prepared’. But on this eve of my 40th birthday I am feeling anything but prepared! My youngest, Hilary, just asked me if I’m excited about tomorrow … not sure ‘excited’ is quite the word I’d choose!
There were so many things I had in mind to do before I turned 40, like visiting far off lands, reading a whole pile of ‘must-read’ books and learning the guitar. Now I’ll just have to update my ever-growing list and call it ‘things to do before I’m 50’. At least I’ll be able to cross ‘walking Hadrian’s Wall’ off the list soon.
It’s become quite popular to set yourself a target of things to do before you’re a certain age. Of course, even more so to have a ‘bucket list’ of things to do before you die. But as I said at a funeral recently, behind that I think is a fear that in the next life, if it exists, we won’t be able to do any of the fun and wild things we’ve enjoyed in this life, so we have to cram in as much fun as possible before we’re just sitting around on clouds playing harps and yawning for eternity!
One of the privileges of my job is that I get to prepare people for dying. I can talk to them about their fears and worries, their hopes and beliefs, I can hopefully reassure them that they are not alone and that the God who holds them now will hold them through death and beyond. I can pray with them, and I can sometimes have the conversations that families find so difficult about funerals and memorial services.
It can all sound a bit morbid, but I think that says more about our society than anything. Unlike the Victorians who never talked about sex but were very public about death, we do the opposite and never stop talking about sex while death is an almost total taboo. I think there is nothing wrong with being prepared for what will in time happen to us all. Despite what some superstitious folk might think, I don’t believe that talking about it will make it come any quicker!
Having said all that, few of us are prepared to die at 38. As I enter my next decade, feeling hopelessly unprepared for what will follow, I am acutely aware that Andy never made it this far.
The reality is we can’t be prepared for everything life throws at us, and nor should we be. It is I believe the existence of the unknown that gives space for the growth of faith and hope. ‘A man plans his course, but God determines his steps’ as a wise man once said. Or in Sirius Black’s words, ‘What is life without a little risk?’
So, I think a glass or two of wine and a bit more of Richard Rohr’s excellent book ‘Falling Upward’ will be the best I can do to get ready for what tomorrow will bring. And in the meantime, I’ll try to ignore the fact that the rest of the family are ‘secretly’ making their own preparations upstairs!