While out in New Zealand last year, my sister and I spent half a day in the Symonds Street Cemetery in Auckland. We wandered the shade-dappled lanes and let the noise of the city recede as we contemplated the deep thoughts that generally accompany cemetery walks.
In such moments, I find it impossible not to contemplate my own mortality. I also find it impossible not to wonder about the lives represented by each faded marker.
Current Western burial traditions have us merely recording a person's name, years lived, and perhaps a brief quote, leaving the dash between the years to represent an entire life.
There was a time, of course, when it was customary to sketch brief outlines of people's life stories on their headstones. Through reading these outlines and connecting the details to descriptions found on headstones of friends and relatives buried nearby, we're often able to piece together sagas of love, friendship, courage, heartbreak, and sacrifice.
While Bethany wandered off on her own, I planted myself in front of a particular set of headstones -- that of Reverend Donald Morrison, Christina Ross, and Catharine Ross: a missionary, his wife, and her sister. They'd sailed across the world to Oceania as pioneer missionaries from Canada, and now here they rested with only the briefest sketches of their lives recorded in stone.
There's a story here, I thought.
I stared at the headstones as if by sheer wishing, I could mine more detail from the cracked facades.
Then I thought that perhaps these biographies already had been written and that when I got home from my trip, I could get my hands on them. Then I heard my mom's voice in my head telling me that I should write them myself (which is her solution to any discernible gap in the publishing world). Then I thought about the depth of research involved in such a task, felt unaccountably overwhelmed, and wanted to sit down even though I was already sitting down.
Silence stretched. Sunlight filtered through the overhanging leaves. I listened to the distant thrum of downtown Auckland.
While I've lived a life rich in experience, I've done nothing sweepingly heroic or intensely interesting -- nor am I likely to do so. When I die, I will leave no tantalizing sketch on my headstone to inspire future cemetery walkers.
My entire life -- with all of its passions, expectations, efforts, disappointments, hopes, and fears -- will most likely be summed up as a tiny dash between a bracket of years.
And yet there is One who will know my entire story, and He will remember it forever. He has recorded my name in heaven, knows the end from the beginning, and holds my time in His hands.
There is no birth, no life, and no death that is insignificant to Him.
With Him, no story is left unwritten.