An Unusual Teacher

It was a time of transition. In preparing to leave middle school and venture into a new chapter, I prepped my mind and got it ready for the first test. But when the time came, I blanked. For the sight of my new teacher was so shocking, appalling and despicable. His methods were highly unorthodox. I hated him right away, despite his fancy PhD; I discredited and discounted him from my life. He mocked me, saying these tests never get any easier. And sadly, he was right. His name was Death.

When my grandpa Al Pistilli passed away from lung cancer in the Spring of 2006, it was my first genuine encounter with the death of a loved one. Nine years later my mind is flooded with regrets of not conversing more with him about his life. I loved him and miss him very much. Death is a cruel teacher.

But Dr. Death can also be an unusually useful teacher if we allow him to be. Make no mistake, Death is our enemy, the common enemy of the living. One day he will be defeated in full by the One who has already defeated him, and we will have victory. In other words, death does not have the last word, but he does have a word for us today.

Last week, my grandma Janet Pistilli died. And akin to my experience with my grandpa, I am filled with feelings of regret for not spending more time with her. But this is natural, no time will ever be enough with someone when we realize they are gone and not returning.

Sometimes this teacher will give us a study guide, preparing our minds for the inevitable test. Other times, it will be a pop quiz that will blind us because we are never ready for it. His methods are quite unorthodox, unusual and cruel, but we are meant to learn from them, this is why the great Teacher has not fired him yet. So what can we learn?

1. Life is Vapor

The great teacher in Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, understood the power of Death’s teachings. His book is repetitious of the Hebrew word Havel, which means, “vapor” or “mist.” Life is not meaningless vanity, it is short. It brought Solomon great anguish when he labored over the struggle of death. He reflects on Death’s teachings when he writes:

This is the unfortunate fact about everything that happens on earth:

the same fate awaits everyone.

In addition to this, the hearts of all people are full of evil,

and there is folly in their hearts during their lives – then they die. – Ecclesiastes 9:3

When someone we love dies, it should help us see that we are not invincible and immortal on this earth. We all have an expiration date; are we making the most of the time we have left?

2. Life is Beautiful

But Solomon doesn’t stop here. He offers us who are here hope:

But whoever is among the living has hope;

a live dog is better than a dead lion. – Ecclesiastes 9:4

God is the author and architect of life, and He designed it to be beautiful. From the marvels of the universe, to the smile of a newborn, He has made everything beautiful in its time. In a strange way, my grandpa’s death brought a rebirth of sorts into my life. I gained a new appreciation for Today, and drew closer towards desiring God, setting my mind on things above. With the death of my grandma this week, I feel that same sense of renewal and appreciation for life. It’s so interesting how God will use someone’s passage into sleep to wake us up from ours. Don’t be asleep to what’s around you. Wake up, and bring your dreams into the waking life with you, for you never know what God will have for you next. And don’t worry about that unusual teacher Death; learn from him and be wise, for he will only be around for a short time in light of eternity.

7Go, eat your food with joy,

and drink your wine with a happy heart,

because God has already approved your works.

8Let your clothes always be white,

and do not spare precious ointment on your head.

9Enjoy life with your beloved wife during all the days of your fleeting life

that God has given you on earth during all your fleeting days;

for that is your reward in life and in your burdensome work on earth.

10Whatever you find to do with your hands,

do it with all your might,

because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave,

the place where you will eventually go.

– Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

RIP Grandma Janet, we love you and know you're in a better place now.
RIP Grandma Janet, we love you and know you’re in a better place now.

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