In the month of May I turn another year older. This turns my thoughts to the theme of aging.  

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the 12th chapter, there is a wonderful description of the aging process, and the need to be mindful. The passage is full of Hebrew idioms, which appear in bold.

I challenge the reader to “translate” each saying. Try it yourself. If you get stuck, you can find the key below.  

“Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, I have no pleasure in them;

before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain [1];

in the day when the guards of the house tremble [2], and the strong men are bent [3], and the women who grind cease working because they are few [4], and those who look through the windows see dimly [5];

when the doors on the street are shut [6], and the sound of the grinding is low [7], and one rises up at the sound of a bird [8], and all the daughters of song are brought low [9];

when one is afraid of heights [10], and terrors are in the road [11];

the almond tree blossoms [12], the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails [13];

because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets;

before the silver cord is snapped [14], and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it.”

The point of the passage is that the time to appreciate life and faith is always now, for if we put off the important things, we may discover the crucial importance of life when it is too late.  

I’ll try to remember that, among the “darling buds of May”, to use Shakespeare’s imagery. Now is the time to tell people I love them, to work toward the dreams I cherish, to appreciate each new day. Beginning today, I want to live, not simply exist.  

After all, life is too precious to do anything else.

 


[1] “Before the sun …” Here the author is talking about failing eyesight. The clouds and the moon and the sun aren’t quite as bright.

[2] “The guards of the house tremble …” These are the hands, which aren’t quite as steady as they once were.

[3] “The strong men are bent …” There comes a time when we can’t stand up as straight, and our posture suffers.

[4] “The women who grind …” Actually, this is a reference to the teeth—the grinders.

[5] “Those who look through the windows …” A second reference to eyesight.

[6] “The doors on the street …” Forgive me, but this is a reference to constipation — even a problem in biblical times!

[7] “The sound of the grinding …” This refers to loss of hearing.

[8] “One rises up …” You wake up at 4 a.m. and can’t sleep.

[9] “All the daughters of song …” Again, deafness keeps us from hearing the song of the birds.

[10] “afraid of heights …” This is exactly what it means.

[11] “Terrors …” You become afraid of things that never bothered you before.

[12]  “The almond tree blossoms …” You get gray hair!

[13] “The grasshopper…” Yes, this is a reference to sexual prowess.

[14] “The silver cord is snapped …” This last idiom is a reference to the tradition, existing in many cultures, that there is a silver cord that connects body and soul.

 

 


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