In the spring of 2017 we began to hear rumblings from our neighbors that repairs were coming to Yellow Bucket Street. And came they did. In slow, agonizing stages. First they tore up the road. Then we waited. Then they hauled in and laid long cement blocks that ended up becoming the equivalent of curbs the entire length of the street, from the corner store called Sugar all the way to the bridge that leads over the river and up the hill to the village. Then we waited. Then some guys came and said we’d need to cut down the two cherry trees just outside our fence because that’s where the sidewalk would go. We told them we’d see. Then we waited. (We still haven’t cut down those trees because they still haven’t installed the promised sidewalk.) Then they came with a massive machine that stretched the width of the street and put down new asphalt. Then we waited. We wondered if they’d ever fill in the several large holes they left, one big enough for a car to fall into. So far nothing. Kind neighbors have stuck tree branches and other long, obvious things down into the hole to warn unsuspecting drivers. Then some other guys supposedly from the city came and told us we needed to dig a trench for a water canal on the side of the street opposite our house and that if we didn’t, they’d do it but since they’d use a backhoe, they’d have to tear up the wire fence that borders the entire plot of land on that side of the street. Because that plot of land technically belongs to us, we want to keep it fenced in so squatters don’t one day show up and build themselves a house. (It’s happened all up and down our street, and we don’t want to be next.) We paid someone to dig the trench. Then we waited. By then it was fall pushing winter. No one ever came with the cement forms to turn the trench into a canal for rain water. So the trench filled up with trash. Now it’s the summer of 2018. We’re still waiting for them to finish the canal and the sidewalk.
At about the same time they were working on resurfacing our street, they started resurfacing another major north-south running street in our area. It had been in pretty bad shape in places, so the fact that it was being worked on was great. Like our street, it was finished last fall. Then the winter came. Then it was spring’s turn. By then, in some sections the road had already began to crumble into little pieces. Huge potholes formed as trucks off the city’s northern bypass came rumbling south toward the city center. It looked—and felt—like the road hadn’t been touched in 20 years. So in they started this spring on patching the newly resurfaced street. And then some time after that they came back to fix some of the patches that began break up in places.
[Insert your favorite forehead slap emoji or GIF here.]
Things like this happen all the time here. The fleeting, ever-passing nature of nearly everything is constantly in our faces. The renovations recently done at the international airport already need revisiting. The floor tile in our bathroom still needs re-mortared and re-grouted. In fact, the bathrooms in even recently constructed buildings appear to be at least ten years older than the building itself. It feels like so much of what surrounds us at every waking moment is screaming at the top of its lungs, “Nothing will last!” Our streets scream especially loudly.
It’s easy for us to begin to compare. You know, Laura’s hometown in Spain has a “new” cathedral in it that was finished back when America was still a British colony. Oh, and the “old” cathedral next door to the “new” one was finished a few hundred years before King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella funded Columbus’s little sailing venture to India. And both structures are still standing today. Like right now as I type these words. Both buildings are still there. Go ahead and see for yourself. And if that doesn’t make your head spin, a bridge that crosses the River Tormes and leads into the city was built at the behest of a Roman emperor before Jesus walked the earth, and the bridge is still being used today. So there’s that.
We’re tempted to whine. You’re telling me the Romans and all these dudes living in the Middle Ages built structures that have endured for centuries and even millennia, and our roads falls apart after their first winter?
Then something hit me. You know, in reality, it’s all fleeting—the bridge and both of those ancient cathedrals in Laura’s hometown, the pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall, the Empire State Building, the Petronas Towers—they too will eventually disintegrate just like streets do here. Whether they last months like the street I mentioned or millennia like the pyramids, what’s plus or minus 2,000 years when you step back and look at things from an ultimate perspective? The endurance of anything in this life is merely an illusion when you stop and ponder how long eternity is.
For us this fact is simply in our faces all the time. And I admit that’s wearing. Yet the only difference between Laura’s and my reality now and the reality in which we lived just over four years ago is that the fleeting nature of everything was simply much better concealed back then. The eventual end that literally everything faces was not somehow untrue when we lived Minneapolis, MN, or when we got married in Salamanca, Spain. It was just much better covered up, and as such, we simply didn’t think about it. We didn’t have to.
Sometimes we feel like that character from the Matrix who ends up betraying the good guys so that the machines will wipe his memory and plug him back into the dream world in which most of humanity lives. Sometimes we wish we could go back and forget the fact that everything—everything—in this universe is a puff of smoke on the breeze. We can’t. I’m not sure we’d be better off for it if we could.
At times, though, that’s hardly comforting. The reality remains that we’re overwhelmed by the transience of it all, by the agonizing ephemerality of everything we touch, see, and love. It’s in those moments that we have to feel, by faith, the only truly solid thing in the universe: the promises of God.
We were hand crafted for eternity, and it’s for eternity that our hearts long. In eternity they’ll pave the streets in gold, and those streets won’t disintegrate even after a million years. In eternity the gates will be crafted of pearl that will shine as long as God remains enthroned on high. In eternity we won’t grow old and watch our bodies fall apart along with everything else. In eternity we’ll finally have a king whose government won’t ever fall, whose power won’t ever break, and whose goodness and wisdom won’t ever wane.
Unless we keep our hearts fastened on that ultimate hope, I’m afraid we just might end up giving into the temptation to move back to the West and plug ourselves back into a world that seems strong and enduring and trustworthy, even if that is only a lie. At least it’s a nice-feeling lie. Yet a lie it would remain all the same.
We’ll try as much as we can to keep our eyes on what’s true, what Jesus said: “Heaven and the earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” It’s on those promises that we labor to build our lives. What other solid rock is there on which to stand in a world of crumbling three-month-old streets and fleeting 2,000-year-old bridges?