While watching an episode of Bonanza this past evening with my family, I was already in a rather melancholy and thoughtful mood. In this particular episode, Ben Cartwright was his usual self: willing and able to get things done. Except, this time, perhaps he was too careless, too rushed. A good man, who was both a father and grandpa, was killed in an accident that Ben blamed himself for.
Before the accident, the man had seen how absorbed Ben was in his work. And he told Ben that if he didn't stop to really appreciate his life more, he would end up in a grave with an epitaph that would read:
"Here lies a man who let the joy of living wait--he waited too long, and now it's too late."
I let those words remain in my mind for a short time, then I got up and went to the kitchen to write them down. I thought they were very profound, and I thought they did a wonderful job of reminding the viewers of the preciousness of life . . . how it shouldn't be wasted. And then I watched the rest of the episode.
The daughter of the man who died, who had also lost her husband and was left alone with a son, was prompted by Hoss to talk to Ben. He had become listless, filled with guilt and unwilling to work anymore. The woman reminded Ben that the accident was not his fault--that he needed to really live for his sons. And one of Ben's "rivals" even told him that he couldn't change who he was: a man who fought for what he believed in and who worked hard without giving up. So Ben got back on his feet again and gained a new vigor for life.
So was the epitaph the man had made up before untrue, unnecessary? I don't think so. His daughter had referred to him as a "dreamer," while Ben was a "doer." But I think in the end Ben received a new awareness of the joy of life--his life. Whereas before the accident he hadn't really seemed to think about it, after the accident he learned more about himself and the passions that were his own.
I've been to Virginia City, made famous by the actual Bonanza and the T.V. show Bonanza, several times now. At the entrance to the Silver Terrace Cemetery in Virginia City is a sign which says,
"Stop and read as you pass by,
As you are now, once was I,
As I am now, you will be,
Prepare for death and follow me."
While a bit chilling, these words are an important reminder. Life is so short, and the "valley of the shadow of death" is not as far from us as we'd like to think. As believers, we have nothing to worry about, because God will walk with us and bring us safely home. But let us take the reminder to heart. Let us not wait for "the joy of living." Rather, let us seek God's will and discover the passions He has given us. May He guide us so that we might put the passions and talents He has given us to good use.
My dear friends, as we realize yet again how short this life really is, may we be inspired to truly live for God.