You can check out any time you like / But you can never leave
-Eagles, “Hotel California”
A little over three years ago, Eagles singer/songwriter/guitarist Glenn Frey passed from this earth. Checked out, so to speak. But did he leave? Does anyone truly exit this Hotel California called “earth“?
Yes, your time on this planet will eventually end. In my brother Richard’s wonderful book, The Focused Life, he writes, “Think about this. Sometime in the future someone else will have your job. Someone else will be living in your house. Someone else will be driving your car.” (Actually, Richard, I hope my 2010 Mercury Mariner is rusting in peace long before I’m outta here:) “And perhaps, someone else will be married to your spouse.”
Ouch. In any case, someone else will have the things you own (the stuff that isn’t discarded, anyway) and someone will inherit whatever money you may leave (I hope no one’s getting too excited about inheriting my “fortune“). You will be cremated, or buried, and that’s the end of you as far as this world is concerned… right?
Not so fast. People tell the grieving, “(Your loved one) will live on in your heart, in your memories” and it is beautifully true. But a human life leaves more tangible evidence of being here than we may realize.
Every person who has walked this earth leaves behind remnants of him or herself. Have you ever planted a garden? A tree? It doesn’t die when you do. Built something? It will likely stand after you’re lying down. Created a piece of art? Someone will continue to enjoy it, if not treasure it; it may be even passed down through multiple generations. Written a poem, a song, a story? These things may well continue to find an audience after we’ve left, whether widespread because it was a popular work (like an Eagles tune), or simply viewed by a curious youngster in an attic who is rifling through an old trunk full of yellowed documents. Perhaps your style, in whatever medium you’ve worked, has influenced another (maybe without you even knowing it) and therefore lives on in another form, reinventing itself through others’ creations and output.
Have you ever given an encouraging word to someone who was having a rough time? Lent someone a few bucks when they needed it, picked up the tab at dinner, treated a kid to an ice cream cone, or bought a downcast buddy a drink while lending an ear? Have you ever been kind to an underdog, or an outcast? These things may be remembered for a lifetime, and the stories of them shared. They may well inspire the recipient to do the same unto others… the ripple effect.
You loved and laughed and lived and taught us how / And you’re just a breath away
-Tom Hipps, “Evelyn” from the album The Road So Far
When I was in first grade, as we finished singing a song together as a class, the music teacher singled me out and had me come up to the piano. I wasn’t sure what to think as she played a note and said, “Sing this.“ I did, and then she plunked another key, a higher one, and I sang that note. She kept going higher and higher on the keyboard, and I matched each note, until she paused and looked at me as if to say, “Let’s see you sing THIS one” then pressed one more (very high) key. I hit the note perfectly and held it, and as I did, she turned to the student teacher in the room and said in a hushed, glowing tone, “Isn’t that beautiful?”
That episode played no small part in giving me confidence that I could actually, eventually become a singer. I know you weren’t everyone’s favorite teacher, Mrs. Van Alstine, but I owe you a debt of gratitude. If someone has enjoyed my singing along the way, the ripples continue.
In one of my favorite films, Gladiator, Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus Decimus Meridius (has there ever been a cooler name?) states grandly, “What we do on earth echoes through eternity!” I used to equate that to the “treasure in heaven” the bible tells us we will inherit… like, a reward in the next life for each good thing we did on earth. But upon further review, I believe it also means we leave an indelible stamp on this planet long after we leave, in ways we might never imagine. Every person’s existence, every life, is part of the Great Human Tapestry, and it only makes sense… it is only complete… when every soul ever created is woven in. The absence of just one person’s life (yes, even the ones we consider “bad“) would render it a shirt with a missing button; a skirt with a hanging hem; a shoe with a broken lace.
And yes, I believe a key thread of The Tapestry would be missing if Glenn Frey had not recorded those comfortably familiar songs with his fellow Eagles and offered them up to this earth‘s airwaves.
You check out, but you don’t ever leave.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,
as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
-1 Peter 4:10 (New International Version)