Column: The Wise Heart


By Richard S. DenUyl, Jr.
Sentinel Contributor

The other day I went to the local grocery store to buy few staple items:  Milk, OJ, Light bulbs, laundry detergent and paper towels. Honestly, I don’t look at every price tag when I buy groceries, especially the basics.  But I do have a general sense of how much I am putting in my cart and approximately how much it will cost. Which is why I was stunned, when the nice check out lady announced the total, and it was way more than I expected. Something was terribly wrong, I told her.  So together we went over the register receipt. That’s when I noticed there was an item that cost $23.00.  “There it is!”  I exclaimed.  “You must have rang, $23.00 instead of $2.30.”  After doubling checking the bar code, she looked up at me and said: “No, it’s right.  You bought a light bulb that cost $23.00.” “You’re kidding, right?”  “Nope” she said.  “That’s a very special bulb.” To which I replied:  “For that kind of money, when I turn it on, it better turn me on!”  Laughing out loud, she replied: “Don’t count on it.” And then she said this:  “But the good news is that bulb is guaranteed to last up to twenty-seven years.” At which point I had this sobering thought.   Given my age, there is a 50/50 chance that I may burn out naturally before that bulb does! The whole experience was “enlightening” to say the least.

In the end I decided to purchase that special bulb.  Today it lights up the fixture above my desk at home.  Should I ever move away, I’m going to unscrew it and take it with me, as it is a nightly reminder of what the Psalmist wrote 3000 years ago:

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a wise heart….so that our years may come to an end with a sigh”

According to the bible, the person with a wise heart is ever aware that their days on this earth are limited, that they are getting older, and there is nothing they can do about it.  It is a biblical truth that is largely ignored in our culture, which is why the majority of the commercials on the television are about age prevention: the beauty creams, the makeup, the anti-aging lotions and the hair coloring. Don’t’ get me wrong.  I’m perfectly fine with trying everything we can to look and feel younger.  I do it myself.  I take my vitamins, jog the loop at Tod’s Point every day and even wash away some of the gray. It’s a wonderful thing to look and feel younger, as long as we have a “wise heart”, as long as we acknowledge and embrace that fact that our days are numbered.

Why is this so important?  Because life, without an awareness of death, would keep us from living fully and freely in the moment.  Stop and think about it. We could take days to get out of bed and weeks to decide every little thing.  We would have all the time in the world to say, “I’m sorry, I forgive you, I’m proud of you.  I love you.  And chances are we would never get around to it.

Over the years it has been my privilege to be with people who were nearing the end of their lives, dying people who actually taught me how to live, people with “wise hearts” who passed away in peace. And I can tell you firsthand, as they lay on their death beds and looked back at their lives, those people were not thinking about their granite counter tops, or wishing they would have spent more time at the office, or how much money they lost in the stock market.  Rather, the memories rolling through their mind and off their lips were the places they had gone, the people they had met, the lives they had changed, the gifts they had given—the legacy they will leave to their children and grandchildren—to their community, their country and their world.  Hence, their years came to an end with a “sigh of satisfaction.”

The person with the wise heart is slow to worry about the future and swift to love in the present.  They wake up everyday and remember that every breath is a gift, every meal a sacrament and every act of kindness—even the smallest one, is a ritual of thanksgiving for life. And lastly, they make time to call, email or text their friends and loved ones, to say to them: I’m sorry. I forgive you, I’m proud of you.  I love you. I invite you to do this today—right now.  Take a moment to live in the moment.

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a wise heart….so that our years may come to an end with a sigh”

Rev. DenUyl is the senior pastor of The First Congregational Church, Old Greenwich, CT.

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