Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What Matters Most

America's last surviving World War I Veteran celebrated his 109th birthday Monday in Harrison County, West Virginia. Born on Feb. 1, 1901, Frank Buckles lied about his age to join the U.S. Army to fight the forces of the Kaiser in the "War to End All Wars". One of 4,734,991 American "Doughboys" who fought in the Great War, he now is the only one left.

A couple of years ago I first noted that Mr. Buckles was the last remaining WWI Veteran. That was a shocking revelation to me, since I have known so many of his fellow soldiers in my lifetime. It was sobering to realize how quickly time slips away. It doesn't seem so long ago that there were many WWI Vets among us. Now there is one.

My Grandfather, Caudle Adkins, Sr. served in that war. Corneilus Bowling, my wife's grandfather, did the same. As a child, my neighborhood was full of older men who had served in "The Great War". In fact our next door neighbor, and a few old men at church had actually served in the Spanish American War! (talk about old timers!!!)

Most of the other men in our community, those with the young families like ours, were WWII Vets. They were the young guys like my Dad. Now, THOSE surviving fellows are in their 80's and early 90's. Sadly, the numbers of that "Greatest Generation" are diminishing daily at an astounding rate. Now, we Viet Nam Era Vets are in our 60's, and we make up a large number of the "gray beards" you'll see on any given day at the VA Medical Center.

The ever spinning cycle of life picks up speed as we grow older. Our life's transitory nature can be somewhat depressing when one realizes the futility of trying to find what we think of as "fulfillment" (in human terms of possessions, relationships, and even knowledge). It is like trying to "catch the wind". Consider how the wise human author of the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes treats the subject in the very first chapter of his book (vs. 3-11):

"What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, And hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south, And turns around to the north; The wind whirls about continually, And comes again on its circuit. All the rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea is not full; To the place from which the rivers come, There they return again. All things are full of labor; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, "See, this is new"? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after."

On reading the first chapter, one can feel the overwhelming sense of futility.

So what is the answer? Where can one find fulfillment? Where can we find meaning and satisfaction in the few fleeting years of our lives? In the midst of all this "vanity and vexation of the Spirit", the question remains, "What on earth am I here for?"

The writer answers very simply in his closing argument of the ancient book:

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
The preacher's concern is to edify the people
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
The fear of God is the chief antidote of vanity
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

The fact of the matter is that we are only here for a short time. As an old African American lady once told me, "This is only a gettin' ready place".

Even if we might be blessed, like Mr. Buckles, with 109 years on the planet, our lives are only like a vapor in the vastness of eternity.

The next realm where we exist will be forever.

Are you ready? Are you living for what matters most?

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