Soon We’ll All Be In The Past Tense

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

Perhaps because I’m getting older, or maybe because I live in a cemetery, or maybe it’s the result of the coronavirus cloud lingering overhead – but I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently.
I do so without regret, anxiety or fear. “My bags are packed, I’m ready to go,” as the song says, and the Lord can call me home whenever he wants. But my reflections about death are marked by a sense of curiosity and intrigue. I’m dying to find out (excuse the pun) exactly what happens in that moment when we take our last breath and close our eyes on this world forever. What’s it like? What will we feel, hear and see? What awaits us on the other side? Is there a new awareness of life, a new consciousness?
In these musings, one of the things that has occurred to me, though, is how quickly, when we die, people will start referring to us in the past tense, rather than the present tense. For example, right now they might say, “What a nice guy Joe is,” or “Mary is really kind,” but as soon as we die folks will talk about us in the past tense: “What a nice guy Joe was,” or “Mary was really kind.” How quickly they box us up and move us from the active files to the archives!
There’s nothing wrong with this transition, of course, it’s the way it’s meant to be. But it does lend some perspective about our life here and now. The problems we face every day might not be as important as they seem. And are we living a good life or not? When people remember us, what will they say about us? The truth is that the content of our eulogy is being written right now, every day.
The final point is this: while we speak about the past and present, the most important time frame for Christians is the future. Our passage here on earth is temporary, it’s passing quickly. But our future will last forever! “The present world is passing away,” St. Paul tells us, (I Cor 7:31) but “What we await are new heavens and a new earth,” St. Peter affirms. (II Pt 3:13)
The past, present and future – how beautifully they come together in God’s marvelous design!
Something to think about: When you think about death, how do you feel?