In the study at my house, one wall is made up of built-in bookcases reaching from floor to ceiling.
There are lots of great things on them, things that mean so very much to me.
For instance, there are notes and pictures from my children at various stages of their lives — and of mine. There are many great books ... and the Great Book. Some of those books are from my time at seminary; others are great works of fiction and history; some belonged to my mama.
There’s a metal horse that used to be golden in color. My daddy got him for me when I was 5 years old. It used to sit on the mantle of his home; now it sits in mine. There’s my mama’s pocketbook, just like it was the day she handed it to me when she went into the nursing home where she’d spend her last five years.
There are pictures of my wife and children; I’m in some of them. There are notes from friends and family, some saying “thank you” for a time we spent together when times were tough for them. There’s a box of letters from my better half when I was trying to convince her to become my better half.
And there are lots of other things. Truth be told I’m not really sure what’s on the bottom shelves, especially at the back because there’s stuff piled on the floor in front of them. And one day I’m going to get around to cleaning out the place so I can see just what is in there.
At least, that’s what I say.
But I think you get the picture.
And I’ll bet you’ve got a similar room or places in several rooms where special things of yours live.
Sometimes I think that one day those things will be here and I won’t. And that doesn’t really bother me because I won’t know it. Other folks, I guess, will go through those things. They may keep some of them and they may toss others. They may look at some and wonder or even say, “Why in the world did he keep this?”
But if I lost those things or had them taken away before that day, it would be a different story. I would know it and I wouldn’t like it.
And I think that’s how the folks who have lived through tornadoes and similar storms must feel afterwards.
Think back to Sanford a few years ago. So many folks lost all they had — except their lives and the lives of their loved ones. There were the tears and the shock of it all but then the gradual, sometimes instant, recognition it could have been worse.
But still they’ve lost the pictures of their children. And they’ve lost mama’s pocketbook and they’ve lost special things. And life does — and must — go on.
Through the years I’ve had occasion to be around numerous families at the time of a death. And I’ve come to notice that such times can and usually do bring out either the best or the worst in folks.
Tragedy can do the same. The tornadoes produced countless stories of heroes and helpers but we also saw looters and losers.
Two things strike me immediately about all this.
One is a renewed understanding of a line I often find myself using at gravesides when it is time to commit a body to its final resting place until the time the old spiritual refers to as “that great getting up morning.” I’m always awestruck by the sights and sounds of life all around at that moment — the sounds of nature and commerce, the sight of other living beings. Yet I know, can sense, we all stand at the edge of eternity.
And I remember that line out of the New Testament that tells us “the things which are seen are temporary; the things which are not seen are eternal.”
My pictures, mama’s pocketbook, the horse from my daddy ... they’re all temporary. So are the houses that were destroyed and the contents that were flung from them. That tells me if we try to make a life only on what we can see, we’re basing our lives only on a temporary state of affairs.
That doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t have some stuff, but it does mean we shouldn’t make it our do all, end all.
And the second thing is don’t ask or wonder if you can or should help our neighbors.
Be like Nike ... just do it.
Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and retired long-time managing editor of the Chatham News/Chatham Record, having written a weekly column for more than 30 years. During most of his time with the newspapers, he was also a bi-vocational pastor and today serves Bear Creek Baptist Church for the second time as pastor.
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