Closing Time

Closing Time

fireI have a painting over my fireplace by Mark Daehlin, entitled “Closing Time”. It features an old man and children, standing next to a river, raking leaves. The grandson and dog are on a small dock next to a boat, the boy pointing up at the sky as birds fly south for the winter. The man pauses from his task, enjoying the moment. His young granddaughter kneels as she tries to gather the leaves into a nice tidy pile. A fire burns next to her, consuming the leaves that had already been placed there.

In the distance, an old-fashioned pickup truck sits next to a log cabin. A man, presumably the father of the children and the son of the old man, carries firewood to stack in preparation for the long winter ahead. The log cabin glows brightly from its windows, where we can observe the silhouettes of two women peering out on the pastoral scene.

I have oft enjoyed the beauty of this work, as it captures the essence of the life we live. Generations come, and generations go. Time moves fast and, before we know it, the young become middle aged, the middle aged become elderly, as new born infants appear amid happiness and tears.

With the passing of time and the graying of our hair, we begin to pose some deep, philosophical questions. Questions such as, what does it all mean? For what purpose was I brought into this world? Did I fulfill my purpose? Did I squander the opportunities and responsibilities of this life?

At times, regret sets in, and a crisis, of sorts, ensues as it is realized that life is slipping away, with each moment becoming more and more precious than the previous. We wish, at times, we could relive our youth, if even for a day, correcting the foolish mistakes of the past. If only we could turn back the hands of time when our problems were few, our parents shouldered the heavy load, while we played freely with friends and wished we were older so that we could have more freedom. If only we had known the treasure we had! Would we not have cherished each moment as if it were our last?

With age comes nostalgia as we mourn departed relatives who have passed from this life to the next. We crave the comfort of family and friends long gone. In moments of reflection, we wonder when our time will come, and if anyone will miss us when we are gone.

Recently, I stumbled upon some school papers from a young boy, whose sloppy printing appeared to be indicative of the fact that he was just learning to write. Math and spelling apparently weren’t the greatest subjects for the young student, if the red marks on the paper were any indication. The primitive artwork produced by this adolescent certainly was not fare that would be coveted by even the most desperate of galleries.

Yet, for some reason, I now had the papers in my possession, many years after their production, as someone, for some reason, had found value in them. The papers had been a treasure for this person. They needed to be preserved. They had carefully stashed them away, like precious gems, as decades of time passed.

As I stared at the familiar papers of my youth, which had meant so much to my mother, I wondered what to do with them now that she is gone. I could give them to my daughters, but they certainly wouldn’t see the value in them that she had. They would just become needless clutter. I could send them to my father in Alabama, but he too is getting up there in years. My sisters would probably get a kick out of seeing them, but certainly wouldn’t have any desire for preserving them.

I began to realize how pointless it was for Mom to have saved my grade school papers for all of the years that she had held onto them. I realized that, now that she was gone, no one would care about them. No one would treasure them like she had.

Melancholy filled the air as the embers licked at the edges of the papers, then the middle of the stack, until all was transformed to ashes. The room filled with a warm glow as the fireplace burned brightly, consuming the relics of a childhood long gone. How sobering to realize that our lives are like those childhood papers. Birthed in innocence, browning with age, burning brightly producing warmth and light for a brief moment, then turning to ash and fading away.

It’s closing time. The chapter is finished. There are no memories, when there is no one left to remember.