Passing Guests

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“Teach me, O God, how fleeting my life is.

Hear my prayer, listen to my cry;

for I am your passing guest…,

like all who have gone before me.”— Psalm 39:12

Whenever I’m herded onto a jetliner with a couple hundred other uncomfortable, prickly travelers, or crammed into a subway full of bleary commuters, or crushed in any crowd where a crash or a derailment or a shooting or a stampede could suddenly kill us all, I find myself thinking, “These are the people I may die with today.”

I look intently at them, eavesdrop on their conversations, imagine their backstories. “You and I may die together today,” I say to them in my inmost heart.

Does that sound morbid? Maybe it is, but it helps me be human. The more I see others as people I might die with, the harder it is to be rude and judgmental and impatient, my usual behavior in hordes. There’s something pathos-inducing about this thought. It elicits a softening.

We’re not rivals for life’s overhead bins. We’re not jockeying for earth’s limited seating. We’re not first class people and steerage people. We’re dying companions. How can I not be reverent? How can I not be kind?

The psalmist knows he’s here today, gone tomorrow, a passing guest of God. We all are. On earth for a fleeting breath, we live by sheer hospitality, God’s to us, ours to each other, our common death our closest bond.

For everyone in the great crowd of mortals, age to age, it’s the same. Soon I will die with you, and you with me.

In the meanwhile, let’s be kind.

Prayer

Life is short, most holy God. Make me tender towards my dying companions, all of us your passing guests.

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