Cabbages and Kings

Sidewalk Reverie

We were out of town. Not long. Five days. But when we returned, the restaurant near the corner was gone. It disappeared! Like magic!

Some buildings materialize overnight, out of nowhere. Or so it seems. They stand there, 10 stories tall, where nothing ever stood, like they have been there forever. Know what I mean?

It’s called progress. But what really gets me is when an occupied space is suddenly vacant. I go to stare at the emptiness like a tongue goes to feel where a tooth has been.

I didn’t frequent that restaurant much. When I go out to eat I like to go more than a block away. But, on occasion, I stopped in for lunch with a friend, a committee breakfast, a cup of coffee.

Each time I went at break of day, I would notice this elderly gentleman seated in the same booth with his usual bowl of oatmeal, the newspaper, and a crossword puzzle. I wonder. Where will he go now? He had the rug pulled out from under him. I’m sure he must feel lost. People go into buildings, but buildings also go into people. Know what I mean?

“If walls could talk,” we say. But the shattered walls of that razed building never will. They overheard thousands of conversations. Business deals. Arguments. Chitchat. Laughter. Secrets. Gossip. Maybe some marriages were started there. Or divorces. But now I watched as a great roaring mechanical behemoth, like some prehistoric voracious carnivore, lifted tons of stone and steel like they were pickup sticks. This, too, is called progress. Know what I mean?

Buildings stand for centuries in Europe. I remember a town in England where all that was built, when built, stood straight. But age had weakened these buildings. Still, there they are. Some lean forward on their toes, others backward on their heels, and many lean on one another for support. Yet all are cared for and revered. The house of my great-grandfather in the old country still looks bright and cheery with flowers in the bright shiny windows. But the house I was born in in Detroit is long gone. If the Leaning Tower of Pisa stood in our country, it would have been torn down long ago. Not so in Italy.

But it wasn’t expendable buildings I was thinking of when, like a sidewalk superintendent, I watched the mop-up of restaurant debris. It was people. When I thought of a “restaurant-no-more,” a line from Psalm 103 came to mind about “people-no-more.” “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” Like that demolished building, people, too, disappear and their places remember them no more.

I served my last church for 34 years. I still attend there. I look around and see where hundreds of people I buried used to sit. Mr. G. in the balcony, back pew. The B family to my left and the A family to my right. Widow H? Front row, unlike other early birds in the back pews. All, like people of habit, sat in their accustomed places.

Once when the A family sat to my left instead of the usual right, I complained to them in jest. I said it had disoriented me. But now? All gone. Like Job (7:10), who complained that his place would remember him no more. So too, the places of past, late, parishioners have been forgotten. But others now occupy their places. Wonderful!

As that restaurant will no doubt be replaced, so God replaces the generations. While as for those no longer in their accustomed places in church—they who are in Christ now occupy places that will remember them forever.

“I go to prepare a place for you.”—Jesus (John 14:2)

About the Author

Rev. Jacob D. Eppinga was pastor emeritus of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, in Grand Rapids, Mich. He went to be with his Lord March 1, 2008. This column concludes his popular “Cabbages and Kings” series, which he wrote for 40 consecutive years. Watch for It’s All Grace, a collection of his best and more recent columns to be published in book form this fall by Faith Alive Christian Resources.
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