We leave the world the same way we enter it, naked and alone – so goes the modern retelling of Ecclesiastes 5:15. For those of us who prefer the original, “As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labor, which he may carry away in his hand.” Like much of the accumulated wisdom of humandom, the admonishment is open for some degree of interpretation. Is the crux of the message to inform us that worldly possessions do not pass with us into a next existence – reminding us therefore of the folly to build our entire beings around them? Or it could be to better help us to prepare for the natural arc of life?
We begin life nearly helpless and often end it almost the same way. We grow, learn and obtain an ever-increasing set of physical skills until we begin to shrink, forget and lose mastery of our corporal self. In between, we build a family, a home and a career only to arrive at a point no longer filled with mortgage payments, back-to-school nights, anniversaries and early morning staff meetings. We go from a life of leisure to one of great obligation, and back again.
If this curve is assured, what elements of our youth might we anticipate as we slide down the back end of the slope? Children smile effortlessly. They worry little. They are curious and willing to learn without embarrassment. They largely know no shame. They forgive as easily as they love. They take help as offered and let you know how they feel. They eat as they wish and play with their favorite toys for hours. If our return is guaranteed, could we find joy even as we confront the diapers?