Recently I have been thinking if I should get a motorbike and ride again. The last time I rode one was a long time ago. Bike riders understand this longing. Riding a bike is so different from driving a car. When you go about in a car, you are essentially moving around in a box, shielded from the world. To ride a bike is to be one with your machine and one with the world. You cannot get this feeling in a car. I have long thought that I would like to ride one more time before I die. My dear wife, who loves me deeply, is afraid that if I ride I will die. I can fully understand her apprehension seeing the stats of accidents that involve motorcyclists. And I now have the reflexes of a middle-aged man, not the reflexes of one in his physical prime if there ever was such a time. I must add that my darling wife says that if I insist on riding again she will ride pillion with me. I don’t deserve this woman.
My desire to ride again has been further fuelled recently by an advertising clip making its rounds on YouTube and Facebook. I am sure you have seen it. If not check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vksdBSVAM6g. It’s an advertisement for a Taiwan bank though it claims to be based on a true story. Essentially the story is about five friends, average age 81, who suddenly wake up to their mortality when one of their number, another friend, dies. Apparently there was also a girl in the group who had married one of them, who had also passed away. In a very accurate portrayal of life at this age, we are told that one of them is virtually deaf, one has terminal cancer, three have heart disease, and all have degenerative arthritis. They decide to go on one last road trip, rather than just hanging around waiting for death. The question that this advertising clip poses: “What do people live for?”
This YouTube clip has reduced grown men to tears. Last I checked it has been seen 781,659 times. In many ways the clip is clichéd and predictable. Why has it touched so many? For one it was well made. For another it was cold water in the face of a world jaded and tired, anaesthetized from life and death. Many of us are numb just from trying to survive from day to day. We have no time or energy to think or to feel. Many don’t know what they are living for as evidenced by many of the comments in response to the clip. And we have become experts at avoiding the question of death. Because it is so sad. Because we have no answers. The clip acts like one of Jesus’s parables. It draws you in and you are caught, confronted afresh with the age-old questions of life and death, and “what is life for anyway?” It’s a modern summary of the message of Ecclesiastes.
The film clip holds a clue to the answer of the question it poses. No, the meaning of life is not to go on a motorcycle road trip. If life has meaning, it must have something to do with relationships. One theme underlines the story — love. We are moved by the friends’ love for each other. We see them helping each other on their trip. And we are moved by their love for those who have passed on. Perhaps that is the tragedy of being human. We were created for love. But love is defeated by death. No matter how meaningful our relationships, they are ultimately ended by death. And the best this world can offer is memory and nostalgia. In the words of Simon and Garfunkel:
Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you
At the end of it all, all we have left are memories? This is really sad, because at the end, even memories fail you. Which may be why we prefer to numb ourselves with the frenetic pace of modern life.
But there is another story, one that comes into prominence during the Holy Week of Good Friday and Easter but is re-enacted every time the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper. It is a story with a different ending, a happy ending, an ending that gives life and hope. It is a story where love defeats death. Here is one account of that story in the words of an old confession of faith:
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. (1 Corinthians 15:3-9 NLT)
Jesus died but was raised from the dead. Love defeats death. In Christ we too are part of this happy ending. And so while we may be moved by the story in the YouTube clip, we know there is another story, a story with a different ending. So we don’t dwell too long in the valley of tears. Love and life await.
So will I ride a motorbike again? Don’t know. Not really that important. I already have what is truly important, love, divine and human, that death will never defeat.