About this time every year, a week or so before Thanksgiving, I always do two things: read my favorite book about the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville NC, and listen endlessly to the Brahms Requiem. I guess that the seasonal changes, i.e., the falling leaves, windy cold weather, the end of the year, etc., turn my thoughts to the shortness of life, and the transitory nature of human accomplishment. Doesn’t sound very positive, does it?
It IS positive, though…
Do you know the name of the original owner of the Biltmore Estate? You know, the guy who PAID for it, the one for whom it was built? Who was the architect? Who designed the beautiful landscaping of the estate?
I’m guessing that not too many people know.
Yet for these three men, the Biltmore was their greatest achievement. They didn’t enjoy the fruit of their labors. The architect died before the mansion was even completed. The landscape designer died 8 years later, his plantings not coming to maturity for decades. George Washington Vanderbilt died at 52. His wife Edith remarried and sold 100,000 acres of the estate. Ten years after his death, his daughter married into an British family, and it is her two British sons and their families who run the estate as a tourist attraction. His beautiful home – property sold, now run by strangers for strangers.
Their great achievement remains as a testament to their short time on earth. They themselves are shadows, ghostly reminders of the temporary nature of life.
The Brahms Requiem, besides being one of the most sublimely beautiful musical works ever created,is a hopeful and comforting work. I listen to it over and over during a two week period, finally listening mostly to the 7th movement: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yes, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them”. (Revelation 14:13)
With these, my two helpers, I close the year with a deep reverence and gratitude for life – for the gift of music, for family and friends, and especially for the hope of Heaven through the love of Christ. And also with a timely reminder of the brevity of earthly life, and the immensity of eternity.
So I am thankful, and hopeful. And challenged to do better in the coming year – to accomplish more with the gift I’ve been given, to spend more time and energy doing the things that really matter in life.
As my friend Bucci would have said, “That’s deep”…