The Chapters of Life
Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the highly regarded commander of the defeated Confederacy, Robert E. Lee, was visiting a Kentucky woman at her estate. She commented on a beautiful old tree that was dying due to the Union’s bombardment. She asked the General what she should do with this ailing tree, alluding to the dying Confederacy, and soliciting sympathy from one man who could surely identify with her distress.
General Lee looked at her, and after a brief moment of silence said, “Cut it down, my dear madam, and forget it.”
If each of our lives were a book, our stories could span across pages. The whole book could consist of a few small chapters, or it could be a large book with many chapters. If you are like me, sometimes you may get to the last page of one chapter of your life and refuse to flip the page. We get scared. We can’t believe this chapter is finished. We refuse to admit defeat or accept success.
We must turn the page.
For many of us, there is an innocent chapter of childhood, a tumultuous chapter of teenage years, and the nascent years of college. Then we launch into the different chapters of our professional lives, layered with the journeys of significant relationships. Chapters of marriage and children, perhaps one in which a parent has passed on, or sometimes sadly that a child has passed on. Chapters of friendships that have blossomed, and relationships that have fizzled. Chapters of churches and organizations you were a member of. There are painful chapters, beautiful chapters, chapters where you savored every page, and chapters where each page and word revolted you. And in all of these chapters, there is one thing in common.
And an ending.
Too many times, we just refuse to move on to the next chapter. We simply cannot bear the pain of leaving this place behind. Maybe we did not live up to our own expectations. Or maybe the last chapter elevated our spirit and took us to new heights of love and beauty, and we simply want to stay there. We want to reread it, rewrite it, and re-live it. But we can’t. So we sit still. We just hang on.
If you find yourself at the precipice, hesitant to turn over that last page, I want to tell you that it’s okay. You are not alone. This is a human tendency that we all have. And still, I want to encourage us to turn the page. But before you do, take a few things with you.
What can you carry with you into the next chapters?
I look back at the time when my father was alive, a chapter passed. I think of the chapter of my medical school training on the island of Galveston, and my residency training at John Peter Smith hospital. Each of those chapters had beauty in them. And sometimes it is hard for me to reconcile that those things are forever gone. The finality of life and its chapters are not an easy matter.
But this irrevocable ending should be met with an intentional effort to hold a few moments precious. We should aim to carry the heart of each chapter forward. And if we will, we will move on to the next with more grace and gratitude. So what should we take with us?
- The relationships we built. I hope I will always value and preserve each and every relationship possible.
- The values we acquired. I endeavor to carry forward the morals and life principles that I learned and practiced along the way.
- The lessons we learned. I aim to internalize the lessons garnered from my failures and successes.
Let’s take with us the love and encouragement, the courage that comes from our experiences, and the knowledge that we are sojourners on this great adventure of life. Let’s take all of these and more. But friend, as you get to the last page of each glorious chapter, have the boldness to turn the page.
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