A raging light and numbered days

Published 6:24 pm Saturday, July 30, 2016

On Saturday morning, as I sat on my deck and began working on today’s paper, I was startled by the ruffle of wings and a sharp screech nearby. As I glanced to my left, my peripheral vision caught a quick image of a hawk flaring its wings as it swooped down from over our roof, pursuing some other, smaller bird that registered as only the briefest dark smudge in my perception.

The end came swiftly, no more than 10 feet from where I sat, but only as I watched the juvenile Cooper’s hawk land on a nearby branch and commence his meal did I understand what had just happened.

Just an hour earlier, I had been scrolling through my Facebook feed, when I was reminded that exactly one year ago yesterday, I had watched my wife snatched into the air in her own life-and-death battle.

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The analogy is admittedly an awkward one. Annette was hauled aloft by a medevac helicopter during a trip to Ocracoke. And this “bird” was there to save her in the midst of a gallbladder attack on a remote part of North Carolina’s barrier islands. Many of you read a column I wrote about the incident, and folks still ask me today about her health.

As I considered the Facebook memory and then watched the unfolding natural drama from my seat on our deck Saturday morning, I was struck once again by the fleeting nature of life. With various family and friends in desperate and frightening medical situations during the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent a bit of time considering how our candles flicker against the storms.

At a particularly low point in his life, Israel’s King David composed the 39th Psalm while sitting beside a fire and considering his troubles. “Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am,” he wrote. “Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before you; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.”

Folks usually think of David as the courageous king who joyfully pronounced the goodness of God in song. But he was far more complex than that, and I’ve always appreciated that he was so bold in sharing his grief, his doubts, his suffering and his troubles.

David recognized that life is fleeting, a vapor subject to the winds, and he didn’t mind saying he was troubled by the implications, even as he kept his hope in God.

Sometimes I get focused on the wind, rather than recognizing the light of the candle struggling against it. Maybe David, like me sometimes, needed God to remind him of the “measure of his days,” not because David failed to understand his days were numbered, but simply because David was forgetting the value of those days.

After all, we don’t number that which he haven’t counted, and we generally don’t count things we do not value.

We cannot control the storms of our lives, and even the brightest lights will eventually disappear in smoke and vapor. Meanwhile, let us truly count our days, and even in the midst of our storms, as the poet Dylan Thomas wrote, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”