When we heard Buddy Holly sing “That’ll Be the Day” in 1957, we didn’t dream he’d be dead in two years. He was only 22 years old. He had a marvelous future in front of him: great voice, charming personality and this song was a hit. But this song was his prophesy, “That’ll be the day that I die.” And it was.
Most of us get to live longer than Buddy but all of us know that day is coming. We may be 30 or 50 or 80; it doesn’t matter: that day is coming. We try to ignore it; we try to delay it. Nothing works. It keeps coming relentlessly like today’s sunset. Someday, we’ll know that’ll be the day that we die. And then what?
We have absolutely no idea. None of us has ever experienced death and come back to explain it; none of us can peek through that mortal veil to immortality; none of us knows what’s on the other side. So, we do one of two things.
One: we let our imaginations run wild. Two: we listen to our faith stories.
Our imaginations: Who hasn’t imagined wonderful days with our long-lost loved ones? We grab them by the hand and twirl them around and hug them closely. We go from one to the other, jumping over generations and countries because there are no boundaries. We race up to famous people we never knew on Earth and chat with them like old friends. We really can’t imagine how God must look, but we feel we can recognize the bearded face of Jesus, and of course, his mother Mary. We can imagine heaven any way we want.
Our faith stories: Most faith stories begin with our trial. God, the judge, opens our book of life and begins to read our sins out loud. We cringe a bit, but if we’re Protestants, we’ve repeated often: “I believe on the Lord Jesus,” and if we’re Catholics, we confessed our sins to a priest before we died, so both of us get in. What happens next is up to our imaginations.
Most of us don’t think about this when we’re young. We’re too busy. But then we get old. Old age has a haunting way of reminding us. We slow down; our knees hurt, our back hurts, our heart begins to miss a beat (it’s called a fib). Our fingers miss the keys on the keyboard because they’re crippled with arthritis, and we find we can’t walk without a walker or a cane or a wheelchair. Then it’s our hearing and then it’s our eyesight and then it’s our shortness of breath. Buddy Holly’s guitar sings out, “That’ll be the day that I die.”
A few of us are grumpy old men, but most of us are happy. Happy and contented and at peace. It’s not that we have suddenly acquired knowledge of the afterlife. No, we’re still as ignorant of that as the rest of you. Then why are we so happy?
St. Paul nailed it, I think, in his first letter to the Corinthians. Faith and hope are great, he said, but it’s love that “rejoices in the truth.” “Love is patient and kind, without envy.” Old people can become this way because that’s the way young people treat us. They stop to help us with our groceries and they open those big, heavy doors which used to be easy for us to handle, but aren’t any more. “Love is not provoked and doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.” We find it difficult enough to keep a record of our medications, let alone the people who have wronged us. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13) As Paul says so very well, “love never ends,” it just keeps multiplying day after day with everyone who helps us and feeds us and keeps us on our meds.
So, we can sit back in our lounge chairs and sing with Buddy Holly and love all the fantastic people who love us. We don’t care when it comes; we don’t care how it comes. It’s coming, and we’ll be singing, that’ll be the day that I die. Hey! We’re ready.
Bill Cummings’ latest book “Oh My God” can be purchased on amazon.com.