Dust in the Wind by Kansas was an anthem of my youth. “Don’t hang on, nothing last forever but the earth and sky.” It has the air of youthful wisdom: live for the moment; you only live once! “All we are is dust in the wind.”
I have seen photos of my grandfather in the 1930’s, when he was a youth. There was a certain exuberance in his eyes, a seize-life-by-the-tail attitude behind that shock of curly hair. It was a tough time, but you would not know it by the youthful grin.
My grandparents lived frugally and modestly, but they enjoyed life. My grandfather worked at one place his whole life. He walked to work every day. They had one car. He began as an office boy for Kroehler Furniture in Naperville, IL, and he retired as the head auditor of the whole company. He worked hard. He prepared tax returns during “tax season”. My grandmother was the mother hen, caring for everyone, making the meals, cleaning, always moving. They loved each other clearly. They went dancing every Friday night with a local “dance club” and played bridge in a local bridge club. They probably enjoyed family gatherings the most, and they took many vacations in their later years.
I noticed, even as a young child, that they found joy in the smallest of details, and they could talk about the mundane matters of life, like the price of gas or how the last hand of Pitch (a family card game) played out, as if they were discussing treasures and archeological finds. It was not just small talk. They found thrills in the little things of everyday life. They looked back with fondness and forward with brave anticipation, and they lived in the moments in between.
I am not sure they thought much about the meaning of life. At least, they never talked about those things. They talked about everything else. They went to Catholic mass every Sunday. I think they found meaning in everything they did, but I am not sure they could have, or would have, defined that meaning. They just lived it.
“[T]here is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” (Eccl. 3:13)
That pretty much sums up what I remember of my grandparents. I believe they saw life for the gift it is, toil and all, and found happiness in it as the writer of Ecclesiastes suggested we should thousands of years ago.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die….” (Eccl. 3:1-2)
My last memories of my grandfather were grim. He had the excruciating pain of cancer in his eyes. He bravely faced it, without complaint, like he ventured into adulthood in the middle of the Great Depression. My grandparents, my father’s parents, lived every moment in their lives; they drank life up, but the end of life came hard. Cancer took my grandfather in a short cruel time, and my grandmother lapsed into the pain of loneliness and memory loss, slowly fading over years into her last days.
Now they have peace from that pain; but the joy of their lives is gone now – “dust in the wind”.
There is “a time to be born and a time to die” and what happens in between is like “dust in the wind” as the 1970’s Kansas anthem goes. The life we live is real in the moment, but the moments go by all too quickly, and they are just wisps of memory that will fade out of mind when we are gone.
One response to that reality is to chase the thrills of life while we can. I saw a man recently at a community event who I knew years ago. He seemed old when I first met him, but he was living the thrill life, wearing the bandanas still that he wore in his youth that hid the grey balding crown under the weathered face of a biker who had seen more than his share of good times. He had lived hard and fast. When I saw him recently, the bandana still covered is is white frock of hair, but he was noticeably much older. When he caught my eye again, a couple of hours later, it was due to the commotion caused as he stumbled out of a port-a-potty. He fell to the ground and was unable to get up. Four or five men helped him with difficulty to his feet where he swayed unsteadily, dazed, a distant look in his eyes. He was taken away by ambulance.
I am reminded of another white-haired man nearing the end of this life. He sits in the third row at church every Sunday with his wife and a number of younger family members, a different mix every week. Every week when the singing ends and people are excused, he makes his way to a chair in the hall and sits there waiting for eyes to meet his, to offer his hand in greeting, to engage in conversation. He has a quick wit and wry smile. He will joke and offer a story from his long life. Stories of his wife, filled with humor. Stories of WWII, which he fought in the Pacific. Most people pass him without making eye contact, but he is content. His family is his legacy. He has an air about him that he knows where is going. The path is now short.
Is it better to stumble into the great beyond or to walk gracefully, contentedly into it? What hope is there in this life? The writer of Ecclesiastes offers this: “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart….” (Eccl. 3:11)
If God has put into eternity into our hearts, the fleeting and seeming meaninglessness of this life would be a cruel joke if there was not something better beyond.
Kansas is still singing Dust in the Wind, at least for now. The group is noticeably aged. Their individual songs will come to an end, as each of our songs will end, at least for now. The song may be an anthem for youth anticipation, but it hardly seems anthem-like as the days of life wane.
Kerry Livgren, the original lead guitarist for Kansas, became a Christian in 1979, after Kansas introduced Dust in the Wind to the world. Here is an interview from 1980. Livgren has continued to make music, among other things, but he found the Creator in the days of his youth, and he has lived a different life ever since. (http://www.numavox.com/us.htm)
Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”
Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
When the dust of our bones returns to the earth, those who remembered the Creator in the days of their youth and throughout life will gladly submit their spirits to the God who gave them life. If all we are is dust in the wind, we might as well live for the momentary thrills and stumble into our graves; but if God, Himself, placed eternity in our hearts, we await a different ending…. and a new beginning.