I was in a convenience store the other day getting my wife's coffee (hers is green, comes in a 20 oz. bottle, and is made by Pepsi) and as I was standing in line to check out I overheard the following conversation between a gentleman in line and the cashier.
"Happy New Year!"
"Happy New Year to you too. Yours has got to be better than mine."
"Why do you say that?" (as she scans the the things he is purchasing)
"I just found out I have cancer."
"I'm so sorry to hear that. What are you going to do?"
"I'll tell you what I'm going to do, I'm gonna' party my ass off." (pays for his items and walks out the door)
I groaned inwardly for this gentleman and silently lifted a prayer for him. I deal regularly with sickness and death. Often it is up close and personal as I sit in hospital waiting rooms with family or as I stand by bedsides with hospice nurses hovering nearby. However, most often I am alongside members of my church family; people who have hope. Hearing this man's desperate declaration reminded me that many in this world live without hope.
I wonder about this man who is now "partying his ass off". I wonder how he will deal with his hopelessness when he finds moments of sobriety. I wonder how he will face the reality of his situation in those mornings when he finds himself alone and still facing the specter of death. I wonder what happens when the dull ache of emptiness presses through the haze of alcohol or drugs.
Dallas Willard accurately observes that "loneliness is loose upon the landscape. In haunts the penthouse and the rectory, the executive suite and the millionaire's mansion, as well as the barren apartment, the assembly line, the cocktail bar and the city streets. It is the leprosy of the modern world." (from Hearing God, emphasis added)
"So remember your Creator while you are still young, before those dismal days and years come when you will say, " I don't enjoy life." That is when the light of the sun, the moon, and the stars will grow dim for you, and the rain clouds will never pass away. Then your arms, that have protected you, will tremble, and your legs, now strong, will grow weak. Your teeth will be too few to chew your food, and your eyes too dim to see clearly. Your ears will be deaf to the noise of the street. You will barely be able to hear the mill as is grinds or music as it plays, but even the song of a bird will wake you from sleep. You will be afraid of high places, and walking will be dangerous. You hair will turn white; you will hardly be able to drag yourself along,and all desire will be gone.
We are going to our final resting place, and then there will be mourning in the streets. The silver chain will snap, and the golden lamp will fall and break; the rope at the well will break, and the water jar will be shattered. Our bodies will return to the dust of the earth, and the breath of life will go back to God, who gave it to us. Vanity, vanity, says the preacher, all is vanity.
After all this, there is only one thing to say: Have reverence for God and obey his commands, for this is the whole duty of man."
(Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 and 13 GNB)