Where I Ruminate on the “The Shortness and Misery of Life”

Today would have been my father’s 95th birthday. Lawrence Clifford Floyd was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on October 12, 1914, and died in Ocean Park, New Jersey, on July 14, 1983 at the age of 69. He is buried in the Quaker Cemetary in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, along with my mother Frances Irene, who died in 1967 at the age of 53.

It occurred to me that both my parents fell shy of the biblical three score and ten lifespan.

There was a time not long ago, before Bruce Springsteen and Susan Sarandon were on the cover of AARP magazine, before orthotics, artificial knees and hips, Botox and Viagra, Prozak and Ativan, when life was understood, not merely as the pursuit of quality and longevity, but as a short and challenging span full of temptation and sadness that was preparation for another life. Here, for example, is the incomparable Puritan poet, Isaac Watts:

The Shortness and Misery of Life

Our days, alas! Our mortal days
Are short and wretched too;
Evil and few, the patriarch says,
And well the patriarch knew.
‘Tis but at best a narrow bound
That heaven allows to men,
And pains and sins run through the round
Of threescore years and ten.
Well, if we must be sad and few,
Run on, my days, in haste.
Moments of sin, and months of woe,
Ye cannot fly too fast.
Let Heavenly Love prepare my soul
And call her to the skies,
Where years of long salvation roll,
And glory never dies.

Life for most people on earth is both less short and miserable than it was in Dr. Watts’ time, and for that we can be grateful. Still, that is one of Dr. Watts’ hymn texts that won’t be appearing in any of the newer hymnals. But to my lights it is closer to the truth of things than the glossy version of life spun out by Madison Avenue, and it is so starkly framed in an eternal context “where years of long salvation roll, and glory never dies.” How much more blessed to look forward to that than to declining days in a nursing home as our final stop.

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