For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under the sun:
A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to break down and a time to build up;
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A generation comes, and a generation goes,
but the earth remains forever.
With more than five hundred members in my congregation, I can count on a fair number of babies being born each year, as well a certain number of people dying. Part of my job is to conduct the memorial whenever a death occurs. Although each service is different and tailored to the circumstances, I begin many of them with the same reading. I have recited the words of Ecclesiastes so often that I can recall most of them from memory: “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”
It helps me to remember that our lives proceed according to a natural rhythm. The same forces that turn the seasons and move the planets carry us in their unfolding. Stars have their life spans, and we have ours. Even the earth, which seemed to the ancient writers of the Bible to outlast time, was young once and will ultimately grow old. It’s how the world stays in balance and makes room for the new.
Each Living Thing Has Its Own Distinct Life Span
Each living thing has its own distinct season and duration. Among mammals, a well-known rule holds that small creatures have the briefest tenure on the earth; larger ones live longer. So a mouse or a gerbil might live a year or two, a dolphin twenty to fifty years (depending on the species), and a human being threescore and ten. As body weight increases, life expectancy also tends to go up (.28 times as fast, to be exact).
If the universe were kinder, the life span of a dog or a cat might be closer to our own. As it is, loss is built into the equation. From the moment we become attached to the pets who play such an important part in our lives, we know the day will come when we have to say farewell.
Some pets can be exceptionally long-lived. One dog named Bluey, owned by Les Hall of Victoria, Australia, reputedly lived to the ripe old age of twenty-nine years and five months, while the record-holding cat, a female tabby in Great Britain, was said to be thirty-four years old when she finally succumbed in 1957. But few dogs or cats will live to such advanced ages, nor should they. The better part of wisdom lies in accepting nature’s limits.
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Quality of Life Does Not Equal Quantity of Days
Of course, the quality of a life can never be measured by mere quantity. People now live longer than their grandparents did, but are they any more content? While I might or might not last as long as a humpback whale, which can easily live to be one hundred, I will probably never be as serene, benign, and tolerant as one of those mellow giants.
And although twelve years — the actuarial average for river otters — seems rather short to me, I might willingly shave a few years off my life span in return for half of their joie de vivre. What counts, after all, is not living long so much as living well.
Loss Prompts Us to Self-Examination
Life is fleeting, and any loss, whether it be the death of a person or a pet, tends to make us aware of the brevity of existence. Death prompts us to self-examination. Are we getting the most out of life? What more do we need to do, be, or accomplish in our own lifetimes to feel complete? Are there places to go, people to see, or things to do or learn before we leave the world? If so, there is no time like the present.
Becoming more conscious of death can make us more conscious of life as well, inviting us to reflect on the way we will spend the limited years we have available.
Savor Your Moment in the Sun
Nothing lives forever, but within its allotted span, every creature — the mayfly that perishes in a day as well as the redwood that survives a thousand years — has equal opportunity to savor its moment in the sun.
This is a thought that helps me to make peace with death, which almost always comes too soon, both for us and for the animals we love. “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”
Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.
©1997, 2012 by Gary Kowalski. All Rights Reserved.
www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.
Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet
by Gary Kowalski.
About the Author
Reverend Gary Kowalski is the author of bestselling books on animals, nature, history and spirituality. A graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard Divinity School, his work has been translated into German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Czech and been voted a "Reader's Favorite" by the Quality Paperback Book Club. Gary's work centers on the connection of spirit and nature ... acknowledging our kinship with each other and with a universe that is passionate, evolving and alive. Visit his website at www.kowalskibooks.com.