I have spent my day traveling by car to the heart of South Carolina where my parents are now living, having moved to an “Assisted Living” Center recently. I have a brother nearby. “Going home” to South Carolina has become a sort of barometer of sorts for me in the past 20 years (it’s how long I’ve been gone). There have been vacations, funerals, weddings, graduations – all the events that mark the passage of time in a family. As the past few years have gone by the visits have become more “medical” or “emergency” in nature as my parents have entered their 80’s and age has its impact.

I stood around in a parking lot tonight talking with my older brother, both of us grappling with the fact that our parents are not that much older than we are and that their health and fate is likely our own. It’s just one of life’s signposts. Nothing shocking or different than you thought all your life – except that some events make you realize that it’s later than you think.

I can recall the same feeling at a number of points in my life. The birth of a first child (and I could go on for a lot more).

The Scriptures, particularly in the “Wisdom” literature are very frank about the phenomenon of human life. It is fragile, and, on this earth, it is finite. It is strange, and probably a modern thing, that we are surprised by just how fragile and short life is. We live a very protected existence in most reaches of our culture. Most people that I know have never seen anyone actually die, nor have they seen anyone actually get born. The two things we must all do, and most people have never witnessed either. That is strange.

This strangeness probably means that we have less appreciation of the full enormity of our salvation. No one appreciates health like a man who has been very sick. We have been very sick (mortally wounded) and yet have been promised eternal life. I am certain that I do not fully appreciate what that means – but as each signpost goes by I become yet more interested.

The fragility of life makes it yet more precious – it’s finitude makes the gift that awaits us yet more unfathomable. Glory to God for all things.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





5 responses to “Signposts”

  1. Meg Avatar

    You and your parents continue in my prayers. We are also facing something similar, with my father-in-law in a nursing home — it’s been a tremendous strain on both of us, and brought home to us one of the fundamental problems of this modern society: Change. People say that “change is good,” and that “the only constant in life is change,” and they think these two truisms give them a license to go around changing things at random. The trouble with this philosophy is that when too many people are Changing all at once, what you get is overload; and then on top of that, you get the inevitable changes, like kids growing up and parents growing older and dying, your own achy joints and bones that just don’t work the way they used to — in other words, *real* change, as opposed to “created” change. Change may be inevitable, but it isn’t always good, and I wish the Change-Mongers would keep that in mind — then I realize that they will, they will, as soon as their own lives start down the roller-coaster.

  2. Jonathan Avatar


    Your observation is very pointed. I also happen to think it’s right. It is so true that our society is obsessed with change. And, like most other things modern society is obsessed with, this change tends to be one of society’s own creation.

    I also share the hope that the “Change-Mongers” will someday realize that so much created change cannot always be a good thing. Yet, I fear that there are some who have given themselves over to change so much that, even if their world were to shatter into a million pieces, they would be long in coming to this realization even in the desperation of that moment.

    Instead, the likelihood is that some will be convinced that all they would need is to change this or that and all would be well. Then would begin the cyclical trial-and-error of finding out which “this” or “that” to change. This speaks to a main component of the sickness of society (and, very often, us), as I see it: the search for an external change that is often elusive as opposed to the internal change that we all need and to which the Way is easily found for those who honestly and earnestly seek it.

  3. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Change is sold in American culture as a means of selling modernity. We are taught that change is inevitable and therefore accept many things that are not inevitable. It is not inevitable for body styles of cars to change every year or for fashions to change regularly – these are done only to make what we already have feel old and undesirable to us.

    I agree that change is inevitable – but they do not sell that change to us – only ways to keep those changes from coming – i.e. how to keep feeling and looking young.

    But there is a great change coming – from God – and it will be the end of mere fashion.

  4. Roland Avatar

    A century ago, most Americans still lived on farms with livestock. They could not hide from the realities of birth and death, as displayed in the lives of their animals. In rural areas, most births and deaths took place at home, not in hospitals. It was much harder to maintain denial about the facts of human life, and people were therefore probably better prepared for death.

    The increase in farm productivity and the resulting migration to the cities are still seen by most people as a change that was both good and inevitable. But Satan and his minions have used this change to draw a curtain around death, increasing our denial of this reality. It’s not quite “Brave New World,” but it’s a giant step in that direction.

  5. Dean Arnold Avatar
    Dean Arnold

    “Most people that I know have never seen anyone actually die, nor have they seen anyone actually get born. The two things we must all do, and most people have never witnessed either. That is strange.”

    Now that you mention it, yeah that is strange.

    I’ve seen my two children born. Don’t think I’ve seen anyone die.

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