They sat at the dining room table, the two men. Their conversation was serious, even somber. As the younger man spoke of a life lived with purpose, the other listened with tears in his eyes.
When the older one spoke again, his voice was rife with desperation. “You’ve made all the right choices; I’ve made all the wrong ones. I can never go back, can never undo what has been done.”
The younger thought carefully before speaking once more. “You’re both right and wrong. You can’t undo the past—but tonight you can determine to change the direction you go. Then the next time you look back, you will see the difference that good choices can make.”
The other man spoke again and was silent, except for his goodbyes which were abrupt.
“It’s too late for me. Thanks for trying.”
Then he was gone.
As I write this, I am sad again. I am watching as a young man of my acquaintance is recklessly making life choices which he will, no doubt, regret for years to come. In a public forum, accusations are made and recriminations made in reply. A marriage is ripped apart, almost without thought. Another life is derailed, much like the one of the considerably older man described above.
Not in a position to suggest a different viewpoint, I stand helpless as others pat him on the back and goad him on, encouraging what they call a clean break. It is virtually a certainty.
I pray that another path will be found for them, but I’ve seen these situations before. People can be so stubborn—and stupid.
Of all the gifts, I’m thinking that I’m most thankful for the blank page of the moment just ahead, awaiting our first step into it, our first words coloring the empty space. Here is where the past and the future meet. This is the place where we set the memories, about which we’ll reminisce in years to come, into the history books of our minds.
Recently, in an idealistic mood, I posted the above statement for my friends to read and be encouraged by. Tonight, the words dance on the page before me as I repeat them here, much like little children sticking out their tongues and shrieking, Nanny nanny boo boo! in their delight at my despair.
I am tempted to repent of saying the words.
They were intended to be words of reassurance, drawing a picture of delight as the reader stands poised to make memories worth recording and celebrating far into the future.
Now the words are as ashes in my mouth as I realize they are no less true for those who step into the future with bitterness and rancor, writing their impending history with the uncaring destruction of bridges which can never again be traversed.
But, as I write (and think), I am reminded that it has ever been so. What is in the heart of men is what will make its way, however slow and inexorably, to the surface. Selfishness in the heart begets selfishness in words and in actions. Pettiness produces a like result.
The Preacher of the Old Testament said it well: As a man thinks in his heart–so is he.
Later, one who had walked with Jesus repeated it when he suggested that a spring of salt water could not produce fresh water. We make our own choices about the history which will fill the empty page of the future when it is no longer the future.
I will not repent of the words. I’ll not wallow in despair.
Here is what I know:
The grace which has been extended to us is able to reach to the depths of our hearts. We have only to grasp hold of it and allow its work of renewal and refreshing to be completed.
No, we can’t go back and undo the past. The failures of those days still lie behind. But, they no longer have to be ahead of us, too.
The previous page is covered with yesterday’s actions and words, whether kind and constructive, or harsh and devastating. Ahead, still lies the future, clean as the artists canvas.
Your choice…More of the same, or a new direction.
Each moment, each action will determine the history which will one day be retold.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by…
(from The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost ~ American poet ~ 1874-1963)
Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future…
(from Fly Like An Eagle by the Steve Miller Band ~ ca. 1976)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.