February 17, 2010

Life in a Phrase

2010 1505 29 capF YOU COULD SUM UP A FORMATIVE PERIOD IN YOUR LIFE IN SIX WORDS, what words would you choose? I recently posited that question to two different groups of people—Adventist college students and Adventist retirees.
I got the idea from the chunky little book Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Famous and Obscure Writers. The book’s editors got the idea from Ernest Hemingway, who once wrote: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”
Throughout this collection, a wide swath of the public provided a narrow slice of their lives—in only six words. Some of the more memorable:
     “Alive 38 years. Feels like 83.”
     “Bad brakes discovered at high speed.”
     “Sweet wife. Good sons. I’m rich.”
     “Followed yellow brick road. Disappointment ensued.”
     “Birth, childhood, adolescence, adolescence, adolescence, adolescence.”
     “I make hamburgers and French fries.”
     “On the playground alone. 1970, today.”
     “Happiness is a warm salami sandwich.”
     “I still make coffee for two.”
     “I hope to outlive my regrets.”
Adventist Collegians and Retirees
I thought it would be interesting to compare the six-word memoirs from Adventist college students with those of retirees. Here were some of the six-word memoirs written by college students:
     “I shoulda, coulda, woulda, but didn’t.”
     “Never lost. Never lost. Until now.”
     “I finally stood up for myself.”
     “I owe my life to the Ericksons.”
     “I would have told him yes.”

Here were some of the six-word memoirs written by Adventist retirees:
     “She was attractive, and still is.”
     “Enjoying my dream. Then Jesus called.”
     “Uncle Sam called. Had to go.”
     “I now realize: Housework never ends.”
     “Phone call, and it was Christmas.”
     “Abused in childhood. Blessed in adulthood.”
     “Farm, no rain, depression, no money.”
     “Japan stole three years of youth.”
     “Boy, Boy, Boy, Girl, Girl, Done.”
     “Traded in for a younger model.”
It doesn’t take long to recognize the deep emotions behind these words. In many respects, the lives of believers and unbelievers—and young and old—aren’t all that different. Each of these groups experiences joy and pain, celebration and loss, epiphany and confusion. Perhaps the most difficult emotion is regret—the inescapable dread that you’ve done something terrible and there’s no way you can change it. Regret haunts us like a wreck in the rearview mirror.

And yet, for the believer in Christ, there’s one important difference when it comes to life’s regrets—a difference that doesn’t need six words, but only one:

Andy Nash is a journalism professor and lay pastor in Collegedale, Tennessee. His new book is called Paper God: Stumbling Through Failure To a Deep Faith (Pacific Press). This article was published February 18, 2010.