To Everything There is a Season – Or Not

“To Everything There is a Season – Or Not,” Susan Ryder

Ecclesiastes 1:1-9 (Modern Jewish Translation)
“Utter futility,” said Koheleth. “Utter futility. All is futile. What real value is there for a man in all the gains he makes beneath the sun? One generation goes, another comes, but the earth remains the same forever. The sun rises and the sun sets and glides back to where it rises. Southward blowing, turning northward, ever turning blows the wind; on its rounds the wind returns. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full; to the place from which they flow, the streams flow back again. All such things are wearisome; no man can ever state them; the eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear enough of hearing. Only that shall happen which has happened, only that occur which has occurred. There is nothing new beneath the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Forrest Gump, at the end of the movie of the same name.
“You died on a Saturday morning and I had you placed here under our tree. Momma always said dyin’ was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn’t. Little Forrest, he’s doing just fine. About to start school again soon. I make his breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. I make sure he combs his hair and brushes his teeth every day. Teaching him how to play ping-pong. He’s really good. We fish a lot. And every night, we read a book. He’s so smart, Jenny. You’d be so proud of him. Jenny, I don’t know if Momma was right or if, if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”

There was an ancient teacher of wisdom who was called Qohelet in Hebrew, which means preacher or teacher. The name in Greek is translated Ecclesiastes. He wrote after the Babylonian Exile, an experience that broke and changed the Hebrew people, which may help explain why he seems to be somewhat contradictory in his theology. First he laments that all of life is vanity, and there is nothing new under the sun, implying that life is pointless and there is no rhyme or reason to anything that happens, which he carries on with in subsequent chapters. Then he appears to thoughtfully ponder the yin and yang of life, not only reminding us that there is a time to be born as well as a time to die, and a time to cry and a time to laugh – but that there is a time and purpose for every matter under heaven. So which is it, Qohelet? Is all life pointless, or is there a purpose? Or is it both, as Forrest Gump ponders at the grave of his beloved Jenny. Are we all just floating around accidental-like, or do we have a destiny to fulfill? Or is it both?

Like Forrest’s momma, my mother was a believer that life had intention and purpose, and that all that happens to us is according to some kind of plan or destiny. Not in a conservative theological sense of “God’s will,” but in a more mystical way, like the Preacher speaking in Ecclesiastes 3 about a purpose for every matter under heaven. My father was more like Lieutenant Dan and identified with the “Vanity, all is vanity” side of the Preacher. As parents they balanced each other well, and we kids got a dose of both philosophies growing up. All these years later I’d say Betsy is more like Mom now, while my brother David is more like Dad. As the youngest I’m more like Forrest and walk with one foot in both camps. Some days it all seems like a crap shoot, while others I tremble with a sense of awe, connectedness and synchronicity. The latter happened recently.

A year ago this weekend I was in California at my mother’s hospital bedside with my siblings, nieces, and dear family friends, hoping my mother would pull out one more miracle and survive her latest health trauma. It was not meant to be, and she died a few days later – on Friday we will commemorate the one year anniversary of her death. Over the course of the past year as we have been dealing with our loss in our own ways, my siblings and I have also been trying to get her house cleaned out and on the market so we can settle and close her estate. My sister, upon whom most of the work fell, appreciates and embraces the spiritual significance of timing, and wanted to get the house on the market May 1 because she believed the house was meant to sell in May and bring things full circle with Mom’s death on May 31. Thanks to her hard work the house went on the market, not on May 1 as she hoped due to several unforeseen problems, but instead the house went on the market the weekend of Mother’s Day, and what would have been Mom’s 85th birthday. By Tuesday we had 10 offers to consider.

As we sorted through the paperwork on potential buyers with the help of our realtor and friend Bill, Betsy was anxious and began to second guess herself – she wanted a sign that we were doing the right thing by selling the house and not finding a way to keep childhood home in the family. We all agreed previously when we did sell it, we wanted to find the right people – people who would put down roots there, as my parents had done 55 years earlier. As we considered our options, the three of us ending up choosing the same offer we liked best. It was not only higher than our asking price, which was nice, but it appeared that it was going to be bought by a young couple who would hopefully raise their children there – unlike half of the offers coming from “investors” who wanted to rent the property. Betsy then contacted Bill privately, asking him which was his standout, and he said the one we picked, and then he put the icing on the cake. Quoting from my sister’s email, “This nice couple wants the house because they are both employed by Disneyland. I immediately started to cry,” Betsy wrote, “And told him they had our vote. I am still crying as I write this. If these are the new owners, well, we know it was meant to be.”

The day after we told Bill which offer to take, he contacted us to give us more information about the couple. They were the only ones among the 10 offers who actually went to the house and walked through it. They fell in love with the house, yard, and rose garden, and couldn’t wait to move in and make it their own. We found out that the young man is very handy, like my father, and was looking forward to fixing up the house. They are getting married in the fall, and he grew up a few blocks away from Mom’s house. They are excited to move Anaheim and shorten their commutes to Disneyland, where, as most of you know, my dad was employed for 32 years. This was the sign Betsy wanted, and we are now in the midst of a 30 day escrow hoping the deal goes through and we sell the house to these people who seem meant to be. Was this meant to be, or was it random?

All of this transpired while we were in North Carolina, and thanks to modern technology I was able to keep up with the action, sign documents I needed to electronically, and be part of the process in a timely manner. We were staying in a cabin on a pond in the mountains, a different cabin in the same location we stayed last May, whereupon a day after we returned home, I got the call about Mom being in the hospital. This year when I discovered that the sheets on our bed were the same sheets my mom had on her bed in California – sheets covered in pink roses, I took a picture of them, and texted it to my sister. Her reply: “Of course.” Maybe whether or not the pink roses on the sheets and a young couple who happen to be Disney employees buying our family home are meant to be, or random acts of chance is beside the point. Maybe it just is. Whether the universe or Sacred Mystery unfolds according to its own inner logic and set of seasons and plan, or if it’s all just a roll of the dice, maybe the best thing to do is as Qohelet ultimately advises, “Be happy and enjoy yourself for as long as you can;” theological advice at its practical best., a time to dance, a time to laugh and a time to cry. And let the rest sort itself out.

So what do y’all think? Was Forrest’s Momma right, or was Lieutenant Dan? Do we each have a destiny, or are we all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze? Or both? Does it matter?



  1. Ronald Bell says

    My experience and the story I tell myself as a “meaning making” human being is that life is (at least) both — a mixture of chaos and order, i.e. “chaordic”. So I journey up and down the stairs of life holding onto and embracing the parallel banisters on each side of polarity tensions such as purpose and randomness, significance and absurdity, meaning and mystery.

    I also think we have freedom. Humans have the unique capacity of being able to be “conscious of being conscious”. Evolution involves the core dynamic of holons continually moving toward greater and greater complexity and capacity, of “including and going beyond (transcending). In the midst of life’s givens, contingencies, limits and constraints, I think we still have conscious creative freedom — especially for “reframing” and “re-storying” and choosing. Analogically, it’s partially like being dealt a hand of cards (givens), yet being free to play out the cards as to how we choose.

    I’m reminded of the book: “The Five Things We Cannot Change”, by David Richo.
    The book says there are certain realities we cannot change – the unavoidable “givens” of human existence: (1) everything changes and ends, (2) things do not always go according to plan, (3) life is not always fair, (4) pain is a part of life, and (5) people are not loving and loyal all the time.

    David Richo urges us to see that these givens can be embraced gratefully and used to draw out the best in us. For example, although everything changes and ends, renewal and resurrection are always surprising us with new possibilities. Instead of letting pain defeat us, we can use it to develop courage and compassion for ourselves and the suffering of others.

    Still I confess, with all the seemingly senseless suffering on our planet, I have no adequate answer to the problem of suffering & evil in our world. Like so many things in life, such seems a mixture of both chaos and order, purpose and randomness, significance and absurdity, meaning and mystery.

    Thank you Susan for your thoughtful and evocative reflection.