Somewhere, Fyodor Dostoyevsky says the average life of a man is about three generations; that would be around 180 years.
Why so long?
Well, a man lives in the lives of his family, children and friends. The problem of death – real death, in the sense of obliteration and forgetfulness – begins after the third generation. By the fourth generation, a man is forgotten. Life has lost its grip on the human imagination, and the man is gone, utterly gone, at least on this side of death’s veil. For Christians who believe in the promises of the Living God, death is swallowed up in life everlasting. But not all of us have the courage – or the imagination -- to believe such things.
I knew George. I still carry him around in my memory. His brother Ernie included in his memorial of his brother a picture of George (see above) when both of them were very young. A couple of days ago, I mentioned in a phone conversation with Ernie the picture he had included, showing George at, I would guess, about eight years old. This is the George of my own young years, relatively speaking (pun intended).
Andree and I were not married long and living in Bethel – which means, gloriously, “the house of God” – when the two Ricco boys used to visit us. And this was a picture from that time. It was a time when no memorialization was needed. The whole world was full of family. My own family – very large, including my brother and sister, loads of uncles, aunts and cousins – was bursting at the seams. When you can visit someone and knock on the door of their hearts, there is no need of memory. They are THERE. It is presence, the presence of real loving people, that puts memory in the back seat. Here were the real George and the real Ernie.
On viewing the picture of George, I told Ernie, “You know, at that age, George was much handsomer than you.” He took it all in good humor. I can tell you this about George then: His heart was pure. When we die, God will not judge us by our resumes. God judges the human heart. He looks deeply into our souls and says, all of us hope, “OK. You’re in.”
George is in.
How do I know this? Purity of heart does not look to the future. It is mindful of the present, of the person under its nose. And it brushes away all extraneous detail. The human heart is a hunter looking for love. When it finds it, it rejoices. The human heart suffers, sometimes from calamities it brings upon itself. But the human heart that will unscroll before God on the last day knows, with every fiber of its being, that suffering is not useless. How can it be when we will be received on the last day by a God whose Son was lifted up on a cross of pain and suffering? -- “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to myself.”
What do we think it means “to be lifted up?” Christ, who suffered and died for us, was not lifted up to Heaven -- here capitalized because it is a REAL place name – on a golden throne, but on a rude cross stained with blood. Do any of us think He would shut the door on one of His suffering lambs?
No – George is in.
How do I know this?
“In the end, you die,” Blaise Pascal said. “And they throw a little dirt on you, and everyone walks away. But there is One who will not walk away.”
You either believe that or not. By our beliefs, we participate in the creation of Heaven and Hell – and not in some distant land of fairy, but here and now. It pleases George's aunt and uncle to believe that George is now surrounded by Love -- because that is what he deserves. He deserved it when Andree and I knew him all those years ago in the house of God, in Bethel. He deserves it now. And on Saturday, July 25, his family and close friends with gather together to remember him.