The Round Table

Fred Smith

Fred Smith


July 4, 2024

Strengthen What Remains

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When do we start thinking about the finish line? It happens most often when we reach a certain stage of life but that stage is, of course, different for everyone. For some, they begin thinking about last things or finishing well when still young. For others, it may be much later. For me, it began when my grandson asked me, “How old are you, Papa?” When I said nearly 78 he was astonished. “What? And you are not dead yet?” That was my turning point for considering what time for me is left and how to use it. John’s words to the church at Sardis took on a new meaning for me. “Strengthen what remains and is about to die. For I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.” That was the beginning of focusing on legacy and creating memories for our daughters.

After returning from the Camino in Portugal and Spain with our daughter Haley, I talked to her sister Catherine about a trip combining driving and hiking along the coast of California and Oregon. Starting in San Francisco we would end up in Portland before flying home. Even before we landed in San Francisco I had an itinerary of places I wanted Catherine to see as they were wonderful memories for me. There was Chinatown and then the walk down California street and over Market street to the Palace Hotel. After that was Union Square and the St. Francis Hotel where since the 1930’s they had washed and polished all their coins every night. The final touch was dinner at my favorite restaurant, the Tadich Grill, the oldest restaurant in San Francisco where the waiters look and carry themselves as if they were the founding staff.

Like the bank of the Jordan where the tribes crossed into the Promised Land, I wanted a place where I could leave some stones of memory for future generations. It was part of implanting a legacy of stories and experiences that had shaped my life. But on the walk back to the hotel from a memorable dinner I realized there is a downside to all the interest in legacy. It becomes an effort to make our experiences live on and takes our eyes off how we are not so much on a voyage of reminiscence with our children but on a voyage of discovery together.  Leaving stones is a good tradition but too much time spent sharing the past leaves us on the river bank polishing the stones but not moving with them into the adventure of the new land. In fact, looking at life as a narrowing of options while wanting to share the past may distort our thinking about the future. We are focused on legacy instead of the opportunities for the future. It is what Amy Low describes as living in the “last room” of our lives in her book, “The Brave In-Between.” “More than anything, this room holds a remarkable tension between the art of living fully and the discipline of waiting well.”

Memento Vivere

One of several temptations of aging is reducing risk as much as possible. We talk about living on fixed income but there are other things that become fixed and limited in our minds. You know the story of the slave who walked behind the victorious Roman generals and whispered “Memento Mori” in his ear - “Remember you are mortal” and that is good counsel for us all. But there is another phrase as important. “Memento Vivere” - “Remember to live.” Do not be so caught up in the growing awareness of death that you forget to live.

It was T.S. Eliot who wrote, “Old men ought to be explorers, Here and there does not matter. We must be still and still moving.” 

That is the challenge, isn’t it? There is a stillness and stability that comes with growing older but it should not keep us from new adventures with those we love and who, yes, appreciate our desire to leave a legacy but do not want to stay on the bank of the river polishing stones. Albert Einstein wrote, “Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”

The balance of our trip was seeing what was new for us both. The pale dawn light breaking in vineyards; the ancient silence of the redwoods; the smoldering sunset at the beach in Oregon; hiking around blue volcanic lakes near Mt. Hood and all the unplanned stops for road food, photos and surprise detours. It was, thankfully, sharing the experience of walking together into the promised land. 

As I have in the past few years, I am taking off during the Summer and will return in September after the annual conference. 

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