There’s abandoned farm equipment in the woods near me. Rusted, curving blade-plates menace behind axles half sunk in the mud, a trailer lists on flat tires, a tractor cab, door-off-hinges, reveals a still-gleaming steering wheel and torn upholstery. I always wonder about the last day of ordinary use. When did the cab last vibrate with the strokes of an engine; when did the discs last cut through the soil? When were they hauled to the side of the field, set down, and left for good?

I think about a shard of beach glass: when did the bottle smash? Who made it, transported it, sold it; who bought it, used its contents, and threw it away?

My family is probably ending. From my great-great-grandparents until today, each generation has had at most three children, and only one young adult has married and had children. One of my brothers died as a young man. I have no children. It seems likely that none of my living brother’s children will have kids. And so we will be gone.

Henry David Thoreau was descended from Huguenots who were driven out of France. Their beliefs must have mattered to them, or they would not have chosen exile over conversion to Roman Catholicism. Did they see religious conviction slipping away from their younger generations? Did they grieve?

Ralph Waldo Emerson was the son of a Unitarian minister and the descendant of many ministers. He left the ministry altogether; he left every vestige of Christianity. When did the last spark of vitality depart from his vision of Christ?

I have always had You hanging around my neck, even during the years I ignored You. I’m not going anywhere, and I assume You’re not, either. How lonely will You make me be, before You are done?

My loudly anti-religious father kept his Sunday School Bible all his life. I looked up the Lutheran church in the inscription. It closed many years ago.

When does it happen? When does each spark die away?

When I started gardening, I quickly learned that you can move a plant and see it standing in its new location all green and sprightly. You can tend it lovingly and keep an eye on it. Even so, one fine day you may see that it has begun to wilt, and in a day or two more, it has died. If the move disturbed it too much, and tore away too much of the root system you couldn’t see, or gave it a shock you never noticed, the damage though invisible was too great, and so it died.

That is what happened to my middle brother. We were there in a flash; we labored over him; the ambulance came quickly; no one failed in their efforts. But he could not live.

I’ve had to say goodbye to people; I’ve loved and struggled with a church community that closed. Now my current church is in strife, and our condition is uncertain. Is there a wound that is too deep?

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1 Response to Endings

  1. Gary says:

    Yesterday, I prayed with a 97 year old parishioner who is coming to the end of her full and faithful life. Her family were gathered round, and it was bittersweet to see her daughter and granddaughters holding hands and bidding each other good-bye. This is the sort of ending everyone imagines — a life well-lived, loving family, resting in faith even when nothing is certain for anyone on the other side of our last breath. Of course, not every ending happens in the ways we’d like, and in the case of organizations, sometimes the endings seem haphazard, or worse, completely avoidable if only folks had been paying closer attention.

    Unfortunately, there are times when the wound is too deep and the trajectory cannot be reversed.

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