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“Lord, make me to know my end,
And what is the measure of my days,
That I may know how frail I am” (Psalm 39:4).
Twice a day, at least, and sometimes several times a day, I drove past the empty mobile home on the highway-side of our long, private road, and tried not to look. The sight of that long strip of yellow crime scene tape, tucked haphazardly within the branches of a never-pruned bush, would tip me off that I was nearing the scene. I’d catch the flicker of a loosened edge of tape, dancing in obedience to a passing breeze, and I’d look to the other side of the road, and try hard not to think of all the sadness that had played itself out on that parcel of acreage.
Three deaths had occurred there; three deaths in about that many years. The first had been a drug overdose. The second was an accidental homicide, which happened when an estranged ex-husband showed up with a gun, threatened his ex-wife, and shot her new boyfriend. The boyfriend lived. The ex-husband died when his 14-year old son, trying to defend his mother, picked up a two-by-four and hit him over the back of the head.
My husband brought groceries to the family and spent a half-hour trying to comfort a group of people who showed no interest in comfort. “I’m glad he’s dead,” one said, and the rest agreed. Though I can’t imagine the boy escaping regret for the whole of his life, he showed no remorse on that afternoon when Dave sat ready to point the way to forgiveness.
We tried to reach out again, not long after, when Dave spotted the owner of the property, J.D., out near the mailbox. J.D. lived in a travel trailer off to the side of the mobile home, which he had rented to the other family. We’d just returned from the grocery store and had a box of donuts in a bag between us. Dave handed the donuts to J.D., chatted with him a bit, and then suggested that they get together for coffee.
“I might like to do that, Pastor,” J.D. said. Dave left our number and told the quiet man to call anytime.
But coffee never happened. A week turns into a month pretty quickly, and months slip by before you catch what’s happening. Once in awhile, one of us would mention J.D. and the coffee idea would resurface. But before it could come to life, J.D. was gone. One night, after several drinks with his live-in girlfriend, J.D. fell asleep … and she shot him.
Three deaths; three long yellow strips of crime scene tape. I was sick of the sight. But one afternoon, before I realized what I was doing, I stopped my car directly in front of that unpruned bush. Reaching into the branches, I pulled out a section of that tape and tore it away, then brought it home and tacked it to the bulletin board above my writing desk.
We don’t know the number of our days. We only know that we have this hour, this minute, this second. I don’t want to forget the frailty of breath. I want no regrets.
Next to that strip of yellow tape I’ve posted a favorite quote. Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.
Today, I want to sing.