Take Time to Stop and Smell the Shark

by Beth Murschell

Until a month or so ago, my in-laws owned a little vacation cottage on the Jersey shore, built by Mick’s great grandfather. I’ve only been acquainted with it for 12 years or so, but each visit marks changes in the scenery—a kind of renovation beach11.jpgsundial. This time, the new owner (a distant cousin) had transformed the attic into a miniature loft, accessible by a spiral staircase, which enchanted the children. The entire house would fit into our own kitchen/living room. Eight people, his parents and us, occupied 400 square feet of space for three days during inclement weather.

The last time we came six years ago, we had only the photograph of our first child, who was awaiting us in Korea. Now six of us flew up from Florida and headed for the shore in a rented van full of car seats. When we arrived, we saw the markers of passing time everywhere: new construction, pilings and dunes that had disappeared during one storm were back, old shore houses that used to be occupied were decaying. The neighbor ladies next door spent one evening cutting down a set of trees and bushes that had been an eyesore for 40 years. “Remove not the old landmark” has been cast aside as house after house either grows taller or is replaced altogether.

Time should slow down at the shore. But Strathmere’s bell tower chimes hymns at noon and six, and a siren sounds for the end of the work day. Construction crews pound out the hours while their radio pounds out the music.

One chilly walk to the beach to build sandcastles resulted in a treasure of sorts: a small sand shark, decaying in a shallow grave. We were downwind of this treasure for long enough to regret it.

When I was a child, time ticked by in Christmases and yearbook photos. Long hair, short hair, missing front teeth, glasses, dental appliances … graduation was a mirage, and marriage was as far away as the Last Trump. Now I measured myself against relatives during this visit, furtively observing hair color and weight and signs of aging. The last family photo on this side was years and years ago. Time lurches forward in the interval, and a new family grouping will tell the tale. I keep catching whiffs of my own mortality these days, and I long for the redemption of the creation. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

I enjoy sci-fi episodes that involve anomalies in the time-space continuum. I would not go back in time for any amount of money, but the idea of interfering in human history by changing the past intrigues me. I sometimes ponder, while leaving the house for an errand, the fact that I cannot guarantee living long enough to return home. Car accidents and illnesses are unpredictable, at least in my purview.

Sometimes I am caught in my own anomaly—a time eddy swirling repeatedly against the immovable obstacles in my life; and I wish for the Next Big Thing: a vacation, a move, an anniversary, a new school year, a new opportunity. Then I realize that I am wishing my life away, as the saying goes.

“For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14, KJV).

If this had been the last night I would ever put my children in bed, would it have been different? How does a person hug a dying parent for the last time? The clock keeps ticking, obligations don’t evaporate, and we march toward eternity, marking the seasons by school years, by church calendars, or by what is on television.

“LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am” (Ps. 39:4).

James Weldon Johnson invokes impending eternity in “The Judgment Day,” one of the sermons in God’s Trombones:

And I hear a voice, crying, crying:
Time shall be no more!
Time shall be no more!
Time shall be no more!

Some days I long for eternity, but most of the time I’m just waiting for the Next Big Thing. I don’t have any right to assume there will be a tomorrow, but I know who holds the future, and “my times are in thy hand” (Ps. 31:15).

What then shall I do with the uncertain days that remain? Should I contemplate my own demise? Yes—not to be morbid but to redeem the time:

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom… . And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Ps. 90:12, 17).

beth.jpgBeth Murschell is married to Mick, a computer programmer, and they live in Bradenton, Florida. Her master’s degree is in music education, but her past work experience includes industrial cleaning, childcare, bumper factory, fast food, camp work (three different camps), music team, telemarketer, media center, music educator, sixth-grade teacher, maid, retail, writer, and now mother of four. She has lived in Panama City, Louisville, Greenville, Miami, Brevard, Quakertown, and Bradenton.
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