Old Scratch

Dave Smith

I spied an old cookie jar at the VELC rummage sale, a memento shaped like a bold rooster headed toward the hen house.  Mom had a similar one so many, many years ago, one that brother Den harbors in Michigan as a cherished keepsake.  I also came across stones painted with various birds and farm building scenes.  These, too, flooded memories into my aisle by aisle wander.  On second review of these treasures, I discovered “must have” auras drifted about them and sure enough, they travelled home.  The rooster perches on the table, black eyes greeting my morning just like the nasty Bantam that couldn’t wait to chase me to the milk house or sagging garage next to the grain bin.  The Karen painted birds became fishing trip gifts to my two brothers and a house warming decoration for my niece.  Little things with a talent for stirring emotions, for trembling up the tides of once ago and touching different hearts with tickling laps of quickly receding smiles.  I remember parts of my life that way, parts taken by the surety of death’s call.  I type away time as I await the call that tells me brother Neil has gone home to the Lord.  Life supporting treatments have ended and hospice care begun.  He chose this path as God answered all this family’s prayers to have Him show us the journey, to help immediate family avoid the guilt of choices to prolong or not.  In a post-church lucidity when asked about “going in for his treatment on Monday”, he very decisively said to wife, sons and daughters, “No, I’m done with that.  Time to go home.”

We all certainly think about that frightening and seemingly finality called death.  We all have read stories of the “other side”, of the white light and a variety of sensations, of the visual leaving of the spirit seen by those around.  I know Pastor Paul spoke of that vision when he sat at his daughter’s bedside, sat in prayer for peace, and sat in awe of a God that allowed him to see the spirit heaven bound.  But most of us do not have such a moment.  We get the devious devil’s nag of questions, the skulking satan insecurities and unsure thoughts – we doubt.  Thankfully we have a Jesus who patiently tells us to go ahead and touch His hands, feel His side.  In Thomas we see our response to death and in Jesus we see the snatch of victory from old scratch’s hands.  Christ walked away from the tomb and opened a doorway to Him that only an earthly death reveals.

I find words difficult on this subject.  A favorite poem by Dylan Thomas told me for a very long time to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  I think Shel Silverstein, in my more current way of thinking, treats the topic very eloquently:


Where the Sidewalk Ends

There is a place where the sidewalk ends

And before the street begins,

And there the grass grows soft and white,

And there the sun burns crimson bright,

And there the moon-bird rests from his flight

To cool in the peppermint wind.


Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black

And the dark street winds and bends.

Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow

We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And watch where the chalk-white arrows go

To the place where the sidewalk ends.


Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,

For the children, they mark, and the children, they know

The place where the sidewalk ends.


Yes, the faith of a child, the surety of heaven – therein lies the joy we can find when death calls.  Yes I shall mourn my beloved brother as I did my parents and all the loved ones gone before.  But one thing in all the tears brings a smile.  I never see a smiling satan jubilant in claiming a soul.  I see the hand of Christ beckoning, “Come home to Me.  I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light.”  We see all as that door cracks open to unfathomable happiness.  And here on earth, well, I wink at a rooster, look in a curio cabinet, and find in the doing my most precious possession.  God is good.