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My wife Judy died a year ago this month–December 13, to be exact. Ever the detail person, she planned her funeral service and designed her grave marker well in advance. When the marker was set in place, she asked to see it. Despite the icy winter wind that whipped around her wheelchair that day, she flashed her smile of approval.

Ancient Jews had a custom of setting up a large stone or a pile of stones to memorialize important sites in their history–not just burial sites, but battle sites, worship sites, and the point where they crossed River Jordan to enter the Promised Land. These stones served as witnesses to what happened there, not only for themselves but for their future descendants.

So Judy had hers. I walk past it several times a month and remember the chilly day Judy sat there, anticipating her own crossing into the Promised Land. Someday I’ll join her and my date will be etched in the stone. (See? I’ll get the last word after all!)

Eventually, our descendants will forget where the stone is. Wind and rain will erase what we’ve written on it. Granite will dissolve into the earth to join our ashes beneath. Then who will remember us?

The One who made the stone. The One who also made us and the earth from which He formed us. The One who needs no landmark to prompt remembrance of us, for we always will be with Him.

 

Now reading Abraham Verghese’s cinematic novel, Cutting for Stone, a first-person account of a young surgeon who’s trying to discover his past to better understand his relationship with his long-estranged twin brother. It describes the work of his father (also a surgeon) in exquisite detail, all the while drawing us deeper into the complex personality of all three men. An extraordinary accomplishment for a first-time novelist.

In one scene, we see the elder surgeon monitoring the pulse of a desperately ill patient and then walking away, having made the decision not to operate. Why not? his young protegé asks.

“Remember the eleventh commandment,” Dr. Stone says. “Thou shalt not operate on the day of the patient’s death.”

We need to practice such restraint far more often in the face of suffering and death. Our human desire to prolong physical life at any cost makes us grasp at any possible remedy — even untried, experimental remedies — to try to cheat death. Yet serenity, acceptance, even affirmation of death would be a better testimony of our faith in God’s promise of eternal life.