Saturday, May 05, 2007

Charlie Brown, Soren Kierkaagard, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Jim Elliot, Peter Marshall and zoe ...

Sometime in the middle 1970’s, I came across the books entitled, if I remember correctly, “The Gospel According to Peanuts” and “More Gospel According To Peanuts.” I don’t remember now who the author was, but the book’s thesis was that the Charles Schultz’s cartoon strip “Peanuts” was essentially Christian in worldview. Wow, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy, Linus, etc as theologians! I had a great time reading those books, first because I identified a lot with Charlie Brown, and second I got introduced to the thoughts of theologians and philosophers like Karl Barth and Soren Kierkaagard which the book often referred to. (I remember reading about Kierkaagard’s views at that same time from Francis Schaeffer’s book “The God Who Is There.”)

I don’t have those books anymore with me. Best that I could remember, I lent the books to a college friend named Al (he eventually went to and graduated from Raffles University in Singapore and has been working there as a journalist since the 1980’s). I don’t remember him ever returning those books. Hmm, maybe I’d better e-mail him about returning those books …

Anyway, one particular Peanuts cartoon strip from those books showed Charlie Brown walking sadly on the windblown baseball grounds as the school year ended. Charlie Brown was thinking, “I hate it when schooldays are over. There’s a dreariness in the air that depresses me.” That was when Lucy (as usual) gets into the scene and jolts Charlie Brown back into reality.

In the 1990’s, when I was editing the yearbooks of Rizal High School, I wrote a short piece based on that particular Peanuts cartoon strip, beginning it with Charlie Brown’s thoughts. I used the piece in special sections of the yearbooks, and it captured for a lot of our students their mixed emotions as they approached graduation day. The piece goes like this:

I hate it when schooldays are over. There’s a dreariness in the air that depresses me. Even the rooms that once were filled with laughter are now empty and bare, the fine dust gathering on the wooden chairs, the windows shutting out the light from the dying sun.

Outside the once green grass now turns to deep brown in the parched ground, the trees bare of any leaves, their twisted black branches reaching upwards toward the sky in vain supplication for a little rain. The wind blows and creates swirling clouds of dust that sweep the school grounds and the empty hallways that once echoed the sounds of hurrying feet and young, excited voices.

School days are over, summer is here.

We’ve said our final goodbyes to our dear friends a thousand times, not really wanting each goodbye to be the last and final sad farewell. We cling to our friends, we hold hands tightly as we walk around the school one final time; we visit the rooms that were once our safe and secure refuge from the harshness of life.

We go through the paces of graduation practices, and laugh at the silly mistakes we make. But deep inside us, we feel a cold hand clutching our hearts, knowing that each day brings us closer to the moment when separation from our dear friends becomes inevitable, a moment steeped in profound sadness and absolute finality.

We close our eyes and hope that time can stand still; we will hold this day like a precious diamond in our hands, hold it up and reflect upon its exquisite beauty. If only time can stand still, we will forever be happy, together …

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross became famous with her study on death and dying, with the stages that a person who knows he or she is terminally ill (or undergoing deep personal sorrow) oftentimes goes through – anger, denial, bargaining and acceptance. Kubler-Ross discovered that a dying person oftentimes focuses not on his or her academic achievements, career highlights, professional pinnacles, but on snatches of childhood memories, stories of friendships from long ago, and on events that may have seemed insignificant at the time but which impending death and reflection have now given a new perspective. A dying person oftentimes thinks about places that hold special memories (the house in the province, the old high school), childhood friends, falling in love for the first time …

(Talking about love, I first fell in love when I was a Grade 4 student. I can still remember her long black hair, her languid eyes, her beautiful name ... Elaine Rose. Or was it simply Rose? Or only Elaine? Or was Rose my Grade 6 classmate, Elaine my Grade 5 seatmate? Sadly, I don’t remember now ... Ah, young love!)

“All eternity frozen in a single moment of youth …”

Theologians tell us that “zoe” is the Greek word for “eternal life” or “eternity.” One pastor, teaching on eternal life, was innocently asked by a grade school student, “Pastor, do you mean to say that I will forever be a Grade 5 student?” The pastor then explained that “zoe” does not refer only to an endless period of time but also to the distinct quality of life for that endless period of time.

When I was a first year student in high school, I had a classmate named Felino who was a math genius. One time, as we were on the top level of the grandstand, gazing at the Marikina River flowing lazily behind the school, Felino said that when his time to die came, he wanted to be cremated and his ashes scattered all over the river. That he said, was his idea of eternal life.

I think it was martyred missionary Jim Elliot who said, “When it’s your time to die, make sure that all you have to do is die.” What he says, I think, is not to leave any loose ends in your life - no words of love, affirmation or encouragement left unsaid; no hurts and heartaches inflicted by other people left unforgiven; none of your own sins and offenses against other people left unconfessed …

Famous American preacher Peter Marshall (former chaplain of the US Senate) once said, "Death isn't a wall, it's a door." The Apostle Paul clarifies in I Corinthians 15:51-58 that death comes to us all and then eternity begins:

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is thy sting?

O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.