Returning to the home of my childhood in small-town Oklahoma was an eyeopener. What was once a vibrant, bustling small town is now a largely deserted rundown signpost of the shift of America from rural to urban. Every one of my parents’ generation was raised on a farm. None are still farming, though some still hold their family land and lease it out for farming.
The site of the best memories of my childhood sits burned out with a dumpster outside, long untouched. The brick home of my grandparents, lovingly cared for by my grandmother, is now an empty hull with a blackened hole in the roof. I was three when they built.
House after house is unoccupied, vacant, some with broken-out windows and glimpses of furnishings and possessions still inside. Others sit in disrepair with front yards filled with broken-down vehicles. Amid these and on the more prosperous end of town, stately brick homes mark what may be the last generation in this location.
Even the countryside has changed. In my youth the remains of old soddies and claim cabins marked each section of land, tell-tale signs of the history of the Cherokee Strip. These dotted four per square mile. Now all have been bull-dozed, carted away, and plowed to the borderlines.
Driving up the narrow red-dirt roads was like being in a new location, an unknown and wide-open farmland, unpeopled by anything but oil wells and enormous farm machinery for tilling vast acreage. From five miles in, there was nothing to break the landscape clear to the Kansas border.
Time has passed.
The cemetery begins to fill with the next generation, not the grandparents and great-grands of my youth, but the generation of my parents. Like lemmings, we head toward the cliff.
I don’t like this one bit. I have tried to put the brakes on, but they’re broken.
After we’ve lived a few decades, time seems to speed up, racing from one holiday to another and then flipping the calendar to the new year. Our children rise to heights and fly away, self-sufficient adults who understand this fast-paced modern world far better than we.
We don’t know our neighbors anymore. There is no porch sitting or chatting over the clothesline, just kind nods or greetings as we come and go. No one knows when we’re sick or brings food. No neighbors circle the wagon when a tragedy rocks a family. We’re unaware, encased in our solitary homes.
I don’t like this either. They, whoever they are, say that fifty years after we’re gone, no one remains alive who knew us. Life is a flash, a snap of the fingers, a burst of fireworks, and then the ash falls. It’s over.
From this vantage of over the hill and headed down the slope (I’m 55), the important things rise to the top. The things that will remain are now prominent and clear to define.
To love God and others counts for eternity. The investment of time and love poured onto our families remains. Any work done to help others, to tell them the gospel, and to introduce them to Jesus is of eternal value.
Everything else, not so much. Cool guys with flattops who roared past the school bus on their Indian motorcycles headed toward school in the 50s, inspiring envy in all the boys, are now ash in the wind. Kind and beautiful women remembered for helping others through the heartache of loss of children and home are now buried and mouldering.
So will we be.
What is the legacy we will leave? Will our investments last for eternity? Will we live our lives to please the Lord? Will we lavish love on our families?
Lord, teach us to number our days.