The Hands of Time

September 01, 2003 | Karl Haffner

"Enjoy the little things,” Robert Brault reminds us, “for one day you may look back and realize they were big things.”

I was reminded of this perspective once at a funeral. After sharing the sermon at the service for a woman who died just a few weeks before her 52nd wedding anniversary, I stood by the casket as friends and family filed by. The last person in line was her husband. The sanctuary was empty, and I wondered if perhaps I should allow him to bid farewell alone. While I didn’t want to violate his privacy, I did want to show support.

I stayed, dropping my glance to their hands. His hand, polka-dotted with age spots, firmly clasped her hand, which appeared whitewashed with all the wrinkles stretched out.

Through a shower curtain of tears, I stared at their hands. In my mind, I replayed the stories he had shared with me in preparation for the service. I pictured the first time they held hands at a barn party in Idaho. “I was awestruck by her beauty,” he had told me. “When I asked her to dance, I was so nervous, I was sweating through my pants. But when I took her hand in my sweaty palm, it was like we had known each other all our lives. We twirled around that dance floor 'til three in the morning. I knew that night I had found my soulmate.”

Then I pictured them at the front of the church, holding hands before sliding a gold band on each other’s finger and vowing, "Til death do us part.”

I pictured them in the hospital at the birth of their first child. Clutching her hand, no doubt he whispered words of support. “You’re almost there, sweetheart, and we’ll have a beautiful baby. Hang in there, honey.” In the years that followed, their hands sandwiched tiny hands. At first they were separated by two hands, then four, then six. It wasn’t long and there were four, then two. Soon, the kids were gone and their hands were reunited.

Then I pictured their hands—now shivering with early stages of Parkinson’s disease—clutching a knife to cut their 50th wedding anniversary cake.

I pictured their hands in more recent months as he faithfully rubbed her hands and feet every morning and night as she courageously battled cancer. The doctor suggested the regular massages would stimulate her circulation. So he faithfully rubbed her hands and feet. But with time, the disease chewed away her life, and now he was back at the altar holding her hand for the last time.

In that moment, he looked up at me and whispered, “It seems like yesterday that we were twirling on the dance floor at the barn party. In a wink, it’s over.”

He’s right. The journey is over in a heartbeat. So as long as you have this moment, milk it for all it’s worth. Live the counsel of Jeremy Taylor: “Enjoy the blessings of this day, if God sends them; and the evils of it bear patiently and sweetly: for this day only is ours, we are dead to yesterday, and we are not yet born to the morrow.”

Karl Haffner writes from College Place, Wash., where he serves as senior pastor of the Walla Walla College Church.