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RANDY HUFF: Life, Love and Our Search For Meaning

Life is a bank of memories that pays priceless dividends forever. Or at least for as long as our memory holds.

I remember our neighbors across the street when I was a boy. Their home was large compared to ours. A back entry with carport, a small front porch, maybe an upstairs dormer, and a cellar. This was 1969 in the farming, college, and railroad town in North Central Kansas called Miltonvale. The neighbors were David and Mary Allen, well into their years to my boyhood eyes, but not yet 60. David worked for the DOT and it seems Mary was a seamstress – I cannot remember. I was only four.

There was nothing of particular note I reckon, though everyone’s story is noteworthy if we have time to listen and they are willing to tell. These were common folk like most of us who share the wonder of life. I remember David loved his garden. It filled the entire backyard and graced many other tables in town. I remember David being kind, slow spoken, interested but a bit reserved. Mary seemed worried and maybe hurt somehow – it is amazing what a young boy will sense in his elders.

In later years I wondered if there was sadness because they had never known the joy of children. It does feel that way still in my memory.

We moved away in ’71 and then once, maybe after David retired, they drove to Western Kansas and we met them at a park in Garden City. This was a big deal. We drove 60 miles to meet them and we had a picnic. I sort of remember potato chips, hot dogs, store brand pop, and the dreaded potato salad. Mom never made me eat it so that was ok. It was nice to see the Allens. There was something right about my folks connecting with these elder neighbors from our former home.

Then in 1979 we moved back to the Miltonvale area. It seems they were still living but had slowed some. Mom and dad stayed in touch with them and when my Dad died in 1993 I’m sure David and Mary came and paid their respects. Old family friends mean a lot that way. In 1998 David died and Mary joined him in 2001. I was married with children, living many miles away and may not have even heard the news. And when I looked it up on line I could not find an obituary.

What does this mean? No one talks much about death. Least of all when not dramatic or in a war zone. Most of all we just don’t talk about it. Life passes, we come to grips with it (or not), we feel devastated when someone dies, we consider our own coming demise, and we go on living.

A beloved friend died last Spring, leaving a wife and four kids. He was far too young – 53. What does it mean? Is that all there is to life? Live, love, suffer, die. You could take out the love, but philosophers would say you never live if you don’t love so the first two would cancel out. But we know we suffer and we know we will die. Are there any answers, any clues to all of this?

Solzhenitsyn said, “If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die.” Touche’, or something like that.

Why are we here? Maybe there is no purpose. Except, no one believes that. Parade all the strident atheists along and hear them say all meaning and purpose is a charade, wishful thinking,  make-believe. I call foul. They don’t really believe it or they would surely stop living. Maybe some of them do.

And then they die.

Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most philosophical book of the Bible. Ecclesiastes says the quiet part out loud: David and Mary live and die and are forgotten. Most who knew them will soon also be gone until, in time, no one alive will remember them or have seen them. The garden, the house, the cared-for kitchen and well-stocked cellar – all gone in time – if not gone already. And no one ever to care for it like they did.

So what was the point? Nothing lasts. All is vain, or as one translator put it, “Life is like chasing after wind.”

I don’t buy it as the final answer though. And in the end, neither does Ecclesiastes. The Preacher, as the author is called, gives no modern answers, no self-manufactured meaning, not even a self-help or boot-strapping motivational talk. Instead he goes to the very core and thunders a question and answer: “What is the point of life? Fear God and keep His commandments.”

We can’t hear this today, but we need to. A serious look at our mortality might help. Ecclesiastes, as writer Peter Kreeft puts it, describes life if there is no God. It says if God is absent then all of life is multiplied by zero – and you don’t have to be Einstein to do that math.

It is true: all we love and live for will someday be gone and no one will really care. But if we live for the eternal, if we dare to believe there is more than this life, if we surrender our lives to One who holds it in His eternal hands, then there is a point, a purpose, happiness – even Joy beyond our imagining.

Without this faith, memories mean nothing, nor does life. With it, I can love David and Mary Allen for the beautiful people they were and it will be real. And I can even hope to see them again someday. Nothing better answers the surpassing wonder of this life, picnics in Garden City, a full backyard garden.

Nothing better gives a clue to the yearning we know deep inside.

Randy Huff and his wife lived for 5 years in Roanoke (Hollins) where they raised 2 sons. Randy served as Dean of Students at a Christian school and then worked in construction. For the last 8 years he has served as pastor of a church in North Pole, Alaska.

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