From the Daily Office Lectionary for Friday in the week of Proper 14, Year 1 (Pentecost 11, 2015)
2 Samuel 19:37 ~ [Barzillai the Gileadite said to David,] “Please let your servant return, so that I may die in my own town, near the graves of my father and my mother.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about retirement recently; I suppose that’s something that happens when you hit the mid-60s in age. Where to settle to enjoy what once were called “the golden years”? One doesn’t really hear that term much any more, does one? Are they no longer considered golden, these years of decline when one is supposed to spend time with one’s grandchildren, puttering in a garden or messing about in a workshop or taking classes at an adult learning center? Is it because, as in the days of Barzillai the Gileadite (who was 80 years old, by the way), we no longer have the time or wherewithal to do those things, because we (like Barzillai) must work until we die because pensions have disappeared in financial crises and medical cost increases have outpaced inflation and despite promises to the contrary our homes have not turned out to be the always-increasing-in-value investments they were supposed to be?
Ah, well . . . . whatever. Where to settle in these remaining years, whatever they may hold, is still an issue. As a society we have long ago abandoned any pretense of a hope of dying “in our own towns, near the graves of our fathers and our mothers.” We have become too mobile for that; in fact, our parents became to mobile for that; in the case of my family, my grandparents became to mobile for that. When I look at my options, my choices of place where I might be buried near the graves of grandparents, parents, or siblings . . . I could chose among seven cities and ten cemeteries!
A contemporary commentator on the American scene whose observations make sense to me is John Howard Kunstler. In his book Too Much Magic, Kuntsler writes:
“Yet another problem with suburbia-related to its unworthiness of affection – was its horrifying mutability. Suburbs changed so dramatically from one year to the next that adults came home to find the places where they grew up unrecognizable, and almost always for the worse, often because some beloved patch of woods or other vestige of original landscape had finally yielded to the bulldozers. Life is precarious enough and there are some things in this world which people need to feel a sense of permanence. Familial love and a place called home probably top the list, and we became a whole nation of souls whose home places were lost or mutilated beyond recognition. This sad condition, so common now, has surely worked even to the detriment of family relations, so that we’ve succeeded in undermining the two elements most crucial to healthy functioning personalities: place and family.” (Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation, Atlantic Monthly Press: 2012, pp. 35-36)
A sense of permanence, a spirituality of place, a place called home, “near the graves of my father and my mother” . . . a mobile society constantly changing its location, both by moving and by altering the landscape, does not have these things and cannot really understand Barzillai the Gileadite and his reluctance to accompany David to Jerusalem. As I approach Barzillai’s age, however, I get a glimmer of understanding and an appreciation of what we are missing.