Living on Borrowed Time
When I was a little boy I remember hearing older members of my family starting a sentence by saying, “If I die….” And I remember drawing the conclusion toddling around their knees that apparently some people don’t die. I hadn’t yet gotten the news that nobody gets out of life alive.
That was a long time ago, and I don’t often hear people say things like “If I die” anymore. But that doesn’t mean the attitude has gone away.
Deep within many a human heart is the feeling (as someone once said), “I know everyone dies, but I’m pretty sure they’ll make an exception in my case.”
Of course, for many of us the consciousness of death only really breaks through when we come face-to-face with a life-threatening incident or a terminal disease.
Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist and best-selling author, in her recent book, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” tells the story of a client she calls Julie. Julie had been in therapy with Dr. Gottlieb when she was going through cancer treatments. The treatments had been tough, but successful. However, only a few years later, a new and very aggressive cancer emerged, and this one was untreatable. Julie returned to her therapist, this time to prepare to die.
Both Julie and Dr. Gottlieb learned a lot together that last time around. Dr. Gottlieb writes: “Julie had once said that she finally understood the meaning of the phrase ‘living on borrowed time’: our lives are literally on loan to us. Despite what we think in our youth, none of us have all that much time.”
“No kidding,” I can hear us all saying.
If there has been any awareness that has grown in me in the past few years, especially since passing sixty-five, it is just how short our lives are, and how fast time flies. The days of our lives are the only things in the universe that move faster than the speed of light.
I was poignantly reminded of this recently when we were moving my mother from her home in East Texas. She had lived on that same patch of red dirt between Lufkin and Nacogdoches for all of her eighty-eight years, her childhood in my grandparents’ house, and the last sixty-six in her own home less than the length of a football field away. One day while we were there I was walking around my grandparents’ house – separated from my parent’s house by a road named after my grandfather – when I came across the well my grandfather dug when I was five or six years old.
My grandfather water-witched the well himself (though he was a Baptist Deacon) and dug it by hand with his helper, John Robert Calhoun. Standing beside the well I could almost smell the deep moist earth clinging to my grandfather when he’d climb up out of the depths shovel in hand. Like it was yesterday, I could remember. Just yesterday.
That’s the thing, you know. If we live to be one hundred years old, a human lifespan is still a drop in the overflowing bucket of time.
We live on borrowed time, loaned to us. Given, but given for a reason.
You’ll recall those stories Jesus told about wise servants who invest intelligently that which is loaned to them. Jesus praises those servants who earn all the interest they can on what they were given to invest. And Jesus is not at all happy with the servant who played it safe, fearfully hiding away that which was loaned. From buried loot the master earned no interest at all.
C. S. Lewis once observed how ludicrous it is for us to resent having to spend time with someone who needs us as though the time we spend belongs to us. Nothing, he says, belongs to us. Not time. Not space. Not breath. Not the next heartbeat. It is all given, loaned. And it is all given, loaned, to us, if Jesus is right, for purposes beyond our own.
Dr. Gottlieb’s client, Julie, said that she had learned to savor and make the most of each day knowing that she had terminal cancer, and never knowing if today might be her last day of life. Really, Julie’s situation wasn’t that different from any of ours. We’re all terminal cases. Let’s invest the day well.