Thursday, May 26, 2005

There Oughta' Be a Provision for Time-Outs in the Game of Life

Isaiah 40:6-8 (King James Version)

6 “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:
7The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
8The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”

Nancy and I spent a good part of yesterday in Kansas City. We were there partly for pleasure and partly for business.

At about one-thirty we met her cousin, Bill Berrier, and his wife Barb, for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory on the Plaza. The food was good, and the company was marvelous. Bill and Barb live near San Diego and had come to town for three reasons. Bill is going to be attending his 50th high school reunion this weekend, and this trip to renew high school friendships gave him and Barb a good reason to come in and visit with Bill’s dad, who everyone in the family, whether related by blood or not, calls Uncle Arthur. Arthur’s now a hundred and one and still going strong. Amazing! I told Bill and Barb that I think Arthur has a good chance at one day claiming the title “Oldest living American.” Nancy believes his key to success is that he absolutely never gets stressed out. I think she’s right. At almost every family gathering I’ve ever attended in the years Nancy and I have been married Arthur has been the one who quietly observed while the Catrons, Berriers, and the rest of the family discussed politics, religion, philosophy, liberalism versus conservatism, and other taboos while Arthur just sat and watched, amused, as the rest of us flailed our way through all these minefields over apple and gooseberry pies. Well, Arthur’s a hundred and one and going strong. There’s a lesson in that for the rest of us, I’m sure.

There was another reason for Bill and Barb’s visit. Bill and Nancy are caretakers, with Bill handling the primary duties, in Nancy’s aunt’s affairs and living arrangements. Myrtle, who will soon be eighty eight, had a stroke some time ago that was debilitating, and has since had a second one that further degraded her health. She is living at home, with the assistance of a managed care group. Right after lunch we took time to meet with the managed care group to go over Myrtle’s care, assess her health, and figure out how things need to proceed from this point.

There was a lot of good that came out of the meeting. Nancy was especially concerned over what would happen at some point in the future when/if Myrtle couldn’t or wouldn’t eat, that sort of thing. She wondered out loud whether a nursing home would be necessary. The group reassured her that Myrtle would be able to spend whatever time she has remaining at home. At some point, hospice care would almost certainly be necessary and we found out that it would be available to Myrtle. I believe this was a great comfort to Nancy, as well as the rest of us.

That said, I think this is a very trying time for Nancy. She had a very special bond with her aunt and having to see her life slip away, with her ability to communicate rapidly fading, is very painful. Myrtle was a mentor of sorts to Nancy. I’ve seen how special that relationship was. Nancy is a great lover of the arts and culture, and refined things like home decor. This she picked up from her aunt, who was a graduate of the art institute in Kansas City, and was also a fashion designer. She was polished, dignified, an exceedingly kind woman. Nancy’s always cherished their time together, which has become more infrequent over the years. I remember a very special visit they shared when we lived in New Jersey, the highlight of which was a night the two spent at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Nancy was just in seventh heaven as they left for the city and was beaming for days after the visit was over. But beyond those obviously special times, Nancy just loved being able to spend time with her aunt.

We left the meeting with the caretakers at about four; dropped Bill and Barb off at their rental car, and headed back south to Emporia. As soon as we got past the point at which interstate 35 goes from three lanes to two, I relaxed a bit, knowing that the traffic was going be a whole lot lighter from that point on. I think it was somewhere right around the southbound weigh station that it all hit me. It just didn’t seem fair at all, someone as refined as Myrtle now seemingly lost in a nether world, slowly losing her grip on reality. I’m not sure that I put it the right way, but I tried my best. “You know what, Coach? I think that life oughta’ be like NBA basketball games, especially the way they are at the end.” Nancy looked over at me quizzically, so I fumbled around some more, trying to explain how I felt. “I mean, it’s all those time outs. It all starts with about a minute left in the game. The losing team calls a time out and the clock stops. For the next three our four minutes they all get together and strategize, to find a way to overcome the deficit. Play then resumes for another eight or nine seconds and time is again called. There’s more strategizing and play once again resumes. At about the thirty second point it all happens again. And, it keeps on happening right till the end. I mean, Coach, the last nine seconds of a thriller lasts about two hours.”
“I see what you mean,” Nancy said, chuckling a bit.
I went on rambling. “I mean. I think life would be much fairer if we could all get to call a certain number of time outs at crunch time. I just think it would be a very fair approach, some time when things stand still and we could find ways to undo our mistakes or outsmart the opposition.”
Nancy didn’t say anything, but I think I know what she was thinking. Of the two of us, she’s the one who most often deals in the hypotheticals, the “what ifs.” My response is almost always the same when I hear them – “Hypothesis contrary to fact.” I’m quite certain that’s what Nancy was thinking as I was offering mine.

Something else struck me as we were moving south, and it was very, very close to home. There may come a time when reality slips away from one, or both of us. Now, I’m not a maudlin person, but I sense that I’m about midway through the third quarter now. The road ahead I never thought much about in quarters one and two is approaching and the game is going to end in another quarter or so. Knowing that, it just seemed to me that it would be really nice to have some time outs in the fourth quarter for myself.

Somewhere around Ottawa I began to see it all coming together in my mind’s eye. It was something like a Celtics game, with Johhny Most doing the play-by-play “high above courtside.” I remembered those old, glory days, when Johnny, with his high pitched, nasal voice would describe the action. “Cousy tricky dribbles to the right…..behind the back pass to Russell in the pivot…..over to Sharman at the top of the key…..a twenty footer…..swish!” Then, as we moved south of Ottawa, things changed. Johnny was still “high above courtside,” but he was describing the end of my game in life, with a minute left, complete with time outs for crunch time. “Dilly’s gotta’ call time here. That second quarter sprint he made has got him winded right now. He’s gotta’ call time.” Two time outs later it sounded like this. “Dillon to the top of the key…..around the pick…..left handed dribble…..lays it up and in.” Then, with that grand ending to a close, close game, he proclaimed for all to hear – “That Dillon really finishes well.”

I’m now home and it’s Wednesday afternoon. Reality has, of course, set in. My dream of a life with plenty of time outs is nothing more than a hypothesis contrary to fact. No one gets time outs in the game of life. Nancy’s aunt Myrtle doesn’t, nor do I. The clock doesn’t stop for any of us. We aren’t given an opportunity to strategize while time stands still.

There’s a real lesson in this fanciful dream. It’s all about today. It’s all about now. Holy Writ puts it this way:

Hebrews 3:12-15 (New Living Translation)

12 “Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters.[
a] Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13You must warn each other every day, as long as it is called “today,” (my emphasis added) so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. 14For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. 15But never forget the warning:

Today (my emphasis added) you must listen to his voice. Don't harden your hearts against him as Israel did when they rebelled.”

Some reading this post may be young and vibrant, living life in the first quarter. Some may be feeling very strong and independent, fresh off a second quarter spurt. But, I’m here to tell you that the fourth quarter is coming and there are no time outs that will be made available to you. It’s all about today, and you really need to think about that.

1 comment:

Feeble Knees said...

I love the Johnny Most commentary. Ah Johnny! I can still hear him now.... :)