"Every life passes through these seasons, and we shouldn’t expect it to be otherwise. We will celebrate births and mourn deaths. We will find new relationships and let go of old ones. We will dance in celebration and mourn in lamentation. This is all to be expected and cannot be avoided."
— Robert Williamson, Forgotten Books of the Bible

Jason Isbell's If We Were Vampires is a mature love song, sung beautifully and dedicated to his wife, the musician Amanda Shires. It's about how time running out is a gift, and how a good marriage includes knowing that "that this can't go on forever."

​I'd play Isbell's song at my wedding, and I'd play it for reasons similar to why Dr. Robert Williamson, author of Forgotten Books of the Bible, had this passage from Ecclesiastes read at his wedding:

"Go, eat your food joyfully and drink your wine happily because God has already accepted what you do. Let your garments always be white; don’t run short of oil for your head. Enjoy your life with your dearly loved spouse all the days of your pointless life that God gives you under the sun — all the days of your pointless life! — because that’s your part to play in this life and in your hard work under the sun. Whatever you are capable of doing, do with all your might because there’s no work, thought, knowledge, or wisdom in the grave, which is where you are headed. (9:7–10)

Isbell's song, like the book of Ecclesiastes as presented by Williamson, takes death seriously. Not only does his song remind listeners that our most intimate relationships with others — in a marriage, for example — will come to an end with death, but also that one person's death will precede another: "it is likely that one of us will have to spend dome days alone." At best, so the song says, "we'll have forty years together." But not more. There is no promise of everlasting life in the song - or in Ecclesiastes.

I don't think the narrator of Ecclesiastes would like me. I write this as someone who believes in the possibility, and perhaps even the probability, of a continuing journey after death. I am persuaded by readings in Buddhism and by what I take to be the strong empirical case for a continuing journey, made by David Ray Griffin in Parapyschology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Perspective. Griffin takes us into terrain far beyond the scope of Ecclesiastes: mind-brain relations, studies in parapsychology, and philosophical considerations of the nature of psychic life in the context a multi-dimensional universe. And yet I think that any "life" in life after death will include impermanence: that is, the moment by moment nature of life itself, such that every moment is, in its own way, a birth and a death, a living and dying. Death does not happen at the end of life alone, so Buddhists and Process Theologians tell us, but at every moment of our lives. Even if there is a continuing journey, we cannot completely escape death.

Which takes me back to the point of Isbell's song and Williamson's commentary on Ecclesiastes. Williamson warns us not to measure our lives in terms of lasting achievements or even the permanence of relationships, but rather in terms of the share of life we've been given, whatever the share is. As he puts it:

"If we value human existence only in terms of the gain left over at life’s end, we must conclude that all of our hearing and seeing and speaking has been pointless. But if, as the Gatherer suggests, we learn to think in terms of our share rather than our ultimate gain, we can learn to appreciate each and every word spoken, each and every sight seen, each and every utterance heard as having its own value in its own moment, no matter how brief. In this way, the Gatherer compares human life to the cycles of nature. As the sun’s setting cancels its rising, so our death will cancel our birth. That doesn’t mean the journey across the sky counts for nothing."

Truth be told, I think he's right. There is a flow of time as the sun journeys across the sky and as we humans journey within the earth. This flow is not simply an add-on to life; it is life, and life unfolds in moments. One day I'll be gone, says the narrator of If We Were Vampires, and one day you'll be gone. At least the "I" of the moment will be gone, never to be recovered except in memory. What to do? How to live?

Williamson offers some sage advice. Don't be preoccupied with everlasting life. Make your peace with impermanence, with the passing away of things; and know that the beauty of life, and also its tragedy, is in its finitude. We will celebrate births and mourn deaths, with whatever share we are given. Amen.

Lyrics to If We Were Vampires

It's not the long, flowing dress that you're in
Or the light coming off of your skin
The fragile heart you protected for so long
Or the mercy in your sense of right and wrong
It's not your hands searching slow in the dark
Or your nails leaving love's watermark
It's not the way you talk me off the roof
Your questions like directions to the truth
It's knowing that this can't go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we'll get forty years together
But one day I'll be gone
Or one day you'll be gone
If we were vampires and death was a joke
We'd go out on the sidewalk and smoke
And laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand
Maybe time running out is a gift
I'll work hard 'til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn't me who's left behind
It's knowing that this can't go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we'll get forty years together
But one day I'll be gone
Or one day you'll be gone
It's knowing that this can't go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we'll get forty years together
But one day I'll be gone

One day you'll be gone