Several years ago, a little red, zit-like bump began to form on my eyelid. I didn’t give it much attention until it began to inflate and resemble a small red pea. Even still, it was tucked away within the folds of my eyelid. So long as I didn’t close my eyes, no one would much notice it. I could have lived with my little facial passenger if it weren’t for my Uncle Stanley.
Stanley Wasilewski was the oldest of my dad’s uncles. From the vantage point of a little boy, there were exactly two remarkable things about him: his harmonica playing, and his left eye. He would only occasionally play his harmonica, but that Edgar Allen Poe eye was always on display. Dad told me that over the years, an untreated cataract had been allowed to creep like a poison ivy vine until it had completely taken over Uncle Stanley’s iris and pupil. This unusable, milky white orb caused little boys like me to regard him as a Halloween creature.
I normally make a doctor’s appointment only when a loved one points a gun to my head, while simultaneously dialing the number, and ordering me to speak. But as I looked into the mirror to shave one day, I noticed my changing eye. While examining it, I squinted. For an instant, I momentarily glimpsed the milky-eyed visage of Uncle Stanley staring back at me. The intrusive image in the mirror didn’t move his lips, but I could hear his message, “You know, my eye didn’t start out looking this way either.” I immediately made an appointment.
The reason I treat physicians like IRS auditors was, once again, reaffirmed. As a result of this initial visit, a chain reaction of doctor’s appointments started filling my calendar. The phrase, “It could be cancer,” led me to an ophthalmologist, who pronounced it a benign personal hygiene problem. In the process, however, he noticed a nearby facial skin irregularity that, “could be cancer.” Next stop…dermatology. The dermatological appointment resulted in nothing but a speech on the use of sun-screen and keeping wet things dry and dry things wet.
It occurred to me at the end of this medical pilgrimage, that I had entered into a new phase of my life. As a kid, I used to hear my grandma and grandpa talking about their myriad doctor’s appointments. I would think, “What a waste of time.” Now here I was engaging in grandma and grandpa activities. Time has a way of moving forward.
This is essentially the message contained in the cicadas’ song this time of year. Their musical drone-like voices say it over and over again. “Another summer is slipping away, slipping away, slipping away….” During this time of the year, the evening shadows begin to stretch their arms out just a little bit earlier every night. Children, the world over, are mourning the passing of late bed times and lazy days as they prepare for structure, and homework, and shirt collars and long pants. Summer always seems to be in such a hurry. This time of year has a way of reminding us, “Time is moving forward…slipping away…slipping away….”
Now is the time when every child attempts to squeeze just a little more summer out of each day. Mothers and fathers have to work that much harder to persuade their children away from twilight games. Right about now, the child hears the cicada’s message about time “slipping away, slipping away, slipping away,” and wonders how he or she could have failed to notice earlier the precious gift that is passing. For a child, this is an early, bittersweet taste of the truth that nothing lasts forever. Likewise, for many adults, the preciousness of life and its fleeting nature comes into focus most clearly when a medical condition shows up singing the cicada’s song.
In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 6: 51- 58), Jesus provided the most substantive response ever to the cicada’s song about “slipping away, slipping away, slipping away….” In response to that old song, it is as if Jesus squared up, and sang his own timeless song, “I am the bread of life. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
When an emergency plumbing project springs up out of nowhere, you feel gratitude that you never gave into the impulse to sell that old funny looking tool that had been laying around in the shed. This week’s scripture is like that. When it finally occurs to us, that life is passing like a fleeting summer vacation, the importance of precious tools like this Sunday’s scripture, and the Eucharist becomes clearer.
In this Sunday’s scripture, Jesus invited us to consume his life more and more deeply into ourselves. In Jesus, our daily bread, we find the tools to face even the passing of this sweet, precious life of ours. In this Bread is the taste of every summer that has ever moved off over the horizon. In this Meal is the promise of girl graces given back and boy adventures still to come.