Objective Distance

Posted by Albert Ng on

There is a special kind of place that does magic to my heart like no other place.

Whenever I am there, time freezes, my heart quiets down, my mind stops wandering, and my misty perspective seems to clear up.

This magical place is not Disneyland. It is not church either.

It is Hong Kong Cemetery in Happy Valley; Stanley Military Cemetery in Island South, and Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.

Sometimes I will walk and read the tombstones one by one. This person died in 1865 when he was 62 years old. This person died when he was 13 in 1992, the year I graduated from University. This baby did not even reach her first birthday! Here is a name of a famous man that makes history—but most are nothing more than a name.

Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalms 90:12)

Reading these tombstones somehow clears up my clouded perspective. It helps me to let go of things that I held so tightly for so long. (Or, should I say things that my heart stubbornly holds on to and not willing to let go?) Are the things that I so insist upon really that important? Do I really want to continue holding grudges against that person? Am I really that “right”?

The other time when my perspective was exceptionally clear was when I was lying on the hospital bed, getting ready for surgery.

“What if…?”

Reading these tombstones reminds me how brief my life will be. Somehow, facing our mortality gives us wisdom. We gain a certain “objective distance” to look at ourselves with more objectivity.

How am I doing? How am I really doing?

What is truly important to me?

What is my heart telling me?

When I go home, what will I do differently?

By tomorrow morning, I pray that I will not just be one day older. I pray that I will be a little bit wiser. I pray that I will be better in touch with my heart and with God’s heart—His father’s heart for me.

Lord, teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.”


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