Three More Pieces of Mail
By JIM NICHOLS
Most people early in life understand the concept of “tying up loose ends.” We all have small and large projects with a proposed ending date, and we are trying to complete the details before that time. What happens if the time runs out when we still have loose ends dangling?
Two weeks earlier, he had sat at the desk and taken care of the business of life. Two weeks later, he was gone, and I was sitting at his desk. It was an abrupt infection that overwhelmed him physically. His functional life ended and soon his physical live ended. By faith, his spiritual life continued.
Now, I had come to his study and his desk to try to understand how I might complete some of the tasks he had left unfinished. I suspect I am not alone in being uncomfortable with the concept of being “unfinished.”
The floor was covered with boxes only partially filled; they contained books plus compact discs and old video tapes. Two large file cabinets contained an impressively organized cache of important documents; it made me reconsider my own level of organization of such items.
The desktop surface was not visible because of all the sticky notes and small piles of papers. I recognized his writing on the pads but did not understand their meaning. The stacks clearly had some organization to them, but it escaped me. Standing up neatly in a holder were three sealed envelopes already stamped and ready to be mailed. Just that close to tying up that loose end.
Several of the items on the desk were clearly financial in nature. It was past awkward for me to see numbers and charges and try to understand their importance. There are others who will take care of long-term financial concerns, but, perhaps, there were some immediate ones that I might spy on the desk and be able to close out. However, the maze of notes and papers obscured their time frame. What was due now, two weeks from now, or next spring?
Sitting there was a time of clarity for me that the end of each of us on earth will be accompanied by a raft of incomplete, in process, activities. Since our culture is so determined by achievement, this is unnerving. It caused me to consider a set of sentences beginning with “perhaps.”
Perhaps I am too tied to completing projects; there will always be a next one.
Perhaps I need to become more content with simply “being” as God’s person. I do not have to achieve (finish) everything of concern. Am I loving and do others love me? Why am I not simply content with that? I do need to take care of some of life’s responsibilities with the skills and resources I have, but, when I leave earth, there will still be some undone. So what?
Author Richard Foster addressed his dealings with financial advisors. He noted that they play important roles in guiding our thinking about investments, buying and selling, and preparing for financial needs of ourselves and those for whom we are responsible. Admitting all that, he proposed attention to the different goals an advisor might have compared to ours as children of God.
Perhaps, he noted, the advisor may well share some of our personal goals, but they also logically have a clear financial (“of this world”) aspect. I have noticed that also in dealing with financial advisors. That is, of course, their job. However, it is an emphasis we need to avoid simply because we understand that this stuff we have will sometime vanish.
I am sitting at my desk now typing on a computer. The desk has a calendar, more pencils and pens than I could ever use, and sticky notes galore. The nearby shelves are packed with books and file folders labeled irregularly; I could usually find something given enough time.
It is possible that I could leave this space today and not return another day. Someone else would come and discard virtually all the physical items. I am hoping that they, too, will sense that, though there was some good in this work, it always had a finite end approaching. I am hoping that thought will be a reminder to pay attention to what God deems as important.
The next day I put those three stamped envelopes in the mailbox.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain