Saturday, March 25, 2017



I often learn something at funerals.  It may be the good things about the guest of honor, in this case, a former student being eulogized by the clergyman, on the basis of second-hand knowledge recently gained from his family and friends.  The deceased was in his late fifties, he had no wife nor children, a fact of life that the octogenarian priest noted he shared with him.  He pondered the meaning of a premature death as others have done.

He related the story of a Jewish scholar in Alexandria, Egypt, pondering the question about a hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ.  The scholar did not arrive at an answer but reflected that a life well-lived is more to be desired than a long life.  I think most of us would concur.  If you believe in an eternal reward for a life well-lived, the length of life becomes somewhat irrelevant.

The greatest life was only about 33 years long; today is an anniversary of his miraculous conception over two thousand years earlier.  More recently, Martin Luther King showed what a person can achieve before forty.


The fact that I did not remember the former student did not bother me too much.  I was at the funeral because his mother was a friend of my wife from working together on some charities years previously.  But I realized how few students I still remember from the hundreds taught in the thirty-six years of teaching plus twenty-one years of retirement.  Even fewer names from that sub-group are remembered.

I started reflecting on the people that were part of our lives in the past.  A next-door neighbor, some fifty years ago, had been very good to us and we had visited her after she retired and moved away, but I couldn’t think of her name.  Well, I finally did a dozen or so minutes later.  I was telling that to my wife and she said, “you couldn’t remember my name when we were first married.”  Unfortunately, that was true several times when stressed by making introductions.

Your name does not have to be known to me in order for me to pray for you, but it helps.  I don’t pray for invertebrates, but it was exciting for me to see one for the first time as a specimen in some pond water on a microscope slide a student was examining.  It was a tardigrade and it looked just like the line drawing of it in a textbook.


I doubt that tardigrades would make the bucket list of things to see or do before dying for very many people.  They are not quite as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, Denali, a volcano, Waikiki, or the skyscrapers of many cities.  Celebrities and famous people and their homes, historical sites, and related tours appeal to many.

One thing that stands out upon reflecting about the many places I’ve visited are the encounters with people.  For some reason, when you are traveling it is sometimes easier to talk to strangers.  When you are older, I hope you do not regret not getting to know the people you find close to home better.  That is one thing travel often makes you realize- people are people and each one has an interesting story to tell.  The hazard of that is that if told every time it may get boring.  The joy of it is you can have an interesting life just staying home.

A bucket list is not essential.  I discovered this most convincingly when I was completing my trip around the world on the way back from Tasmania.  Although making new, interesting friends on different segments of the trip; I mostly missed doing it with someone or a group that was part of my normal life.  So, wherever you are, be happy.

Joe Engemann       Kalamazoo, Michigan     March 25, 2017

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