I give myself about 70 years to live. (It’s best to low-ball these things, especially since I’ve already used up about 25 of them.) Now, I have to decide how to spend the last 45. Even at this point in life, when I’m told I ought to feel invincible, it still doesn’t seem like very long. So, if you would indulge me, I’d like to do some calculations to make sure I’m using my remaining time as economically as possible.
I’m getting married soon, which means I’ve already accounted for the majority of my years: date nights, marital squabbles, laughing in the kitchen at 3 o’clock in the morning, making children, raising them, and holding them for as long as they will allow me. That’s easily 20 years worth of living. Twenty-five remaining.
Family time: visits, weddings, laughing with my parents in their kitchen at 3 o’clock in the morning, and watching my mother hold the daughter I’m sure I will have, and who will have my mother’s slate-blue eyes and my father’s sense of humor. I’ll put that down for five years of living.
I have a job I enjoy, but it does take up 40 hours a week. Let’s give that 15 years of living (I’m not a statistician, so forgive my clumsiness).
That gives me five years for laundry and reading and conversations with good friends and writing and helping push dead cars out of roads and things like that.
So now, I’d say I have a month or so remaining. What do I do with that?
For a while, I thought I would spend it trying to assimilate into the Adventist Church. From the time I was dunked and certified at the age of 13, I’ve never felt fully Adventist, whatever that may mean.
I went to an Adventist university, but I always felt like I was defending my membership in the faith. I have attended various churches where I look around during sermons at the congregation nodding their heads in agreement and understanding, but I usually only wish I could nod along with them.
Throughout my years in the church, I have seen some beautiful things that I would not trade for more time on my countdown, yet I have seen some ugly things, too: friends forced out of their jobs, people disallowed admittance to their church homes, hearing the constant reassessment of what it means to be Adventist and never really agreeing with the decision. I used to wring my hands over all the church’s shortcomings, though I had less at stake as someone who joined the party late. But all my worrying was before I realized I don’t have much time left.
A friend of mine was born with a debilitating illness, which she thought would keep her from ever having a relationship with a man, despite the fact that she is beautiful. Yet, when we first met, she was already engaged to a man who has become my brother. He has devoted all of the years that I have calculated above to her, and she to him — not in spite of her illness but because of the woman she is. Despite the many hospital visits they now make, they have found something worth the 70 years, or however long the Lord decides we live. This reminds me of two things:
- Love is like unwashed denim with its sour smell that you only get after sweating in it. And it’s remarkable.
- There are some challenges that are unavoidable. How you address them — with what strength and grace — determines the measure of your humanity. Some challenges, however, aren’t worth the years they will take from the store God as given us. If given the choice between spending my final years measuring myself against friends like mine or fighting for justice in an ultimately flawed and human institution, my choice is simple.
As my years become greater (though they are by no means yet great) worrying about semantics and religious identity and church politics seems like it isn’t worth the time it requires. Besides, I’m no good at it. Rather, I’ll let the fundamentalists defend their great institution and let the “Barely” brand lob stones at the house in which they were born. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. I will go to church, nod my head, take the beautiful things away, then go home and spend my remaining days where I have seen God’s grace the clearest: in the faces and the voices of my loved ones, probably laughing in our kitchens at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Patrick Garrett York is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of California, Riverside. He is a contributing writer to the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, a writer, an advisor, and a teacher. He lives in Los Gatos, California.