30 September 2011

Waiting for the lights

A white hearse was in front of me at the traffic lights. It was big and shiny and mostly glass, which made it easy to see that it was empty apart from the driver and his passenger. I pondered where it might be going, and what might be the significance of the change from black hearses to showy white ones.

On the radio was a rather melancholy piece from the opera Boris Glazunov. Boris Kristof was singing the part of Boris, who was dying, apparently. It was taking him a long time to die, but the piece was clearly full of emotion, even though I couldn't understand the lyrics.

The juxtaposition of the hearse and the song seemed odd, even bizarre in such a mundane situation. As Boris sobbed his last few breaths, cars and trucks continued to pass the intersection, the lady in the park continued to walk her dog, and the driver in the car next to me beat time with his fingers to some livelier tune.

And then suddenly, just for a few seconds, reality seemed to go into reverse, like seeing the negative of a photo. The hearse and the death song were the true reality, and the rest of us, impatiently waiting to get to wherever we were going, seemed to be the bizarre element. Our lives, full of striving to get from here to there, were just part of a brief melodrama, a pretense that we could avoid death by keeping busy. We would all be passengers in the hearse one day.

I was reminded of what we've been reading recently in Ecclesiastes. Some people say Ecclesiastes is a 'difficult' book. I think it's a very realistic book which tells it like it is. Without bringing God into the picture, life is ulitmately meaningless. While there is much to enjoy, success and happiness seem unfairly distributed, and death is the unavoidable fate of everyone. Even with God in the picture life can sometimes seem absurd. But at least we have the reassurance that Someone, somewhere, knows what it's all about, and death is not necessarily the end.

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