‘You’ll be dead!’

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It happened in the foyer of our church about 12 years ago. A man was sharing with me: “My daughter has decided what she wants to do with her life.”

“Oh,” I said. “And what does she want to be?”

He said, “She wants to be a doctor.”

“How wonderful!”I replied. “No, it’s not wonderful,” he countered. “I’ll be paying tuition for 12 years! You know in twelve years I’ll be 57 years old!”

At the time I was 58 years old. Thinking about that, I said, “Hmmm, in 12 years, I’ll be…”

“Dead!” my 12-year-old grandson, Isaac, said. “In 12 years, you’ll be dead!” And then, giggling, he ran off before I could grab him and wring his neck. It hit me that in 12 years I would be 70.

Later that week, I was doing my morning devotions and came across this scripture: Psa. 90:10 “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away.”

All of a sudden, my life seemed much shorter. I realized two things as I sat there and read that familiar scripture several times: (1) I really could be dead within 12 years. After all, my father died having just turned 69. (2) My long-range plans seemed to be given a time limit now. Maybe Ike was right. In 12 years I could be dead. It was a sobering moment. The recognition of mortality often is.

He was joking, of course, and the joke continued through the years. Whenever his family sent me a birthday card all the kids would sign it and say something nice. That first birthday after the incident in the foyer, he wrote. “Only 11 more to go!” And the countdown continued through the years as the march toward 70 continued.

About five years later, when he was 17 or so, we were goofing around and wrestling in my living room. I would show him who was tough, I thought to myself. But then I made a wrong move and incredible pain shot through my left knee. He thought I was kidding, even when I hobbled up the stairs to lie down in the bedroom. The family activities continued but I was absent. I had reason to be concerned.

As it turned out, I had torn the cartilage in my knee in two places and had to have surgery and, then, physical therapy. It took months to fully recover and I gave up all rough-housing with the grandkids. The specter of my mortality had shown up. I felt old, too old.

About that time, my son Jason, Ike’s dad, said to him, “You know if something happens to Papa (that would be me) before he’s 70, you are going to feel terrible.”

Ike acknowledged the truth of that statement and decided to quit the game. When I became aware of his decision, I determined that the show must go on. So, at each birthday I would send him a note or text that said, “Only 5 years left to go!” The countdown continued. I learned that it bothered him so I did what any good grandfather would do. I kept it up!

Last month, I sent him a note. “Only four weeks to go!” it said. And now the time has come. On January 15, 2021, twelve years from the incident at the church, I became 70. I didn’t die. I’m not dead. And if I die tomorrow, Isaac is finally off the hook.

There have been a great many changes in that 12 years. Isaac is now a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, as is his cousin, Tristan Epps. Our oldest grandchild, Victoria Sabrina Epps, Tori to her family, graduated from college, married Joshua Buth, and is a chemistry teacher at her high school alma mater. Grandson Sam Epps, the strongest of our clan, who can lift a telephone pole by himself (I have pictures) married Rebecca and they are expecting a child — a boy.

Another granddaughter, Jackie, is the mother of a beautiful baby girl. Two granddaughters, Eliana and Peyton Epps, cousins, are both students at the same high school and another grandkid, Cassia, is right behind. Rebekah, a baby when the foyer incident occurred, is a lovely girl on the cusp of ladyhood now. The youngest, Isabella, turned 3 a few months ago. We have two granddaughters, Addison and Amelia in New Mexico, that we are watching grow up toward the teen years on social media.

All three of my sons, Jason, John, and James, have changed professions and/or homes during that 12 years since I was 58. A great many things have changed in that dozen years. 12 years ago I was in late middle–age. Now I am … in later middle-age. But I am, thus far, still here, still gainfully employed full-time, and am still able to talk Star Wars vs. Star Trek or Marvel vs. DC smack with the grandkids.

So, on to the next milestone, whatever it may be. As Robert Frost once wrote:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,”

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the crisis, the church is meeting and is live streaming at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays at http://www.facebook.com/cctksharpsburg/. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]