In Between the Lines & Spaces

The story behind the Steven Curtis Chapman classic
“Last Day On Earth”

Just Another Day

 

It was the end of another beginning. The morning rush hour was winding down. The mad dash to beat the First Period bell was over, at least for another day.

As I turned out of the school parking lot, the road back home felt a little like Victory Lane. Driving my kids to school was a lap of the human race I rarely got the chance to run. My usual daily-dash was beating the clock to make my next concert. It felt good to be home, part of that rural routine. Getting back into the cadence of real Life was comforting, fulfilling; like finding just the right rhythm for a song.

As I drove, passing school buses and soccer-mom vans, I realized it would be a long time before the Chapman family shuttle would go out of business. With a clan that ranges from just-out-of-diapers to just-into- college, the road between the world and our home would be well-traveled for many years to come. Pondering this, no doubt with a smile, my drifting mind rolled down the road envisioning the many birthdays, graduations and weddings yet to be.

But like most daydreams, mine, too were interrupted by reality.

On the road just ahead, a tangible vision of the future appeared. The sight, within the frame of my windshield, was familiar but unexpected; inching towards me was a long meandering line of headlights. Although the morning sun was peaking over the Tennessee hills, the double row of white circular beams shined nevertheless. It was as if the slow-moving caravan was feeling its way through the darkest of nights.

Compelled by reverence and tradition I pulled off onto the shoulder. And in the relative silence of my idling car, I watched the solemn funeral procession pass.

Through the windows I could see glimpses of bowed heads, fleeting glances of sober eyes, and handkerchiefs hiding from view the full expression of their collective loss. This was the last road they would travel with their loved one. It was the end of another beginning.

I had no idea who the solemn parade was for; it could have been anyone familiar with this road: a rush-hour bus driver, a schedule-keeping soccer-mom, a child or teenager with daydreams of coming birthdays, graduations, weddings. Watching the slow procession, I was reminded that there were no guarantees. The Human Race was not a standard number of laps. The Finish Line could be just around the corner, or a few hundred more trips around the world.

As the limousines slowly filed by, I found myself wondering how the departed spent their final day. Was it surrounded by family, enjoying their rural routine? Was it stuck in rush hour traffic, trying to beat the clock? Or, like me, was their daydream interrupted by an unexpected reminder of reality?

What if this is my Last Day? 

Any other time the question would’ve seemed rhetorical, whimsical; like, ‘What if I had a billion dollars?’ But as I gazed out the window at my proximity to that hearse, the notion of ‘the end’ appeared alarmingly close, and in that moment the question became real, relevant.

What if this is my Last Day?

Glimpsing the casket through the hearse window, I wondered if the same question had crossed the occupant’s mind, and if so, did it change the way they spent their final hours? No one can know the answer this side of Heaven, but there are only two real options: Either they lived their life the rhetorical way; never taking the question seriously until it was too late. Or they left this world the ‘Rudd Way’; ever mindful that each day could be their last.

As my grandfather’s face flashed across my mind, I found myself hoping that the departed died the way Rubel Rudd lived.

My Grandpa Rudd knew what it was like to face the daily possibility of death. Growing up in the wake of the Depression when food was sparse and disease ran rampant, he managed to beat the odds and reach relative manhood in time for World War Two. After enduring a grueling boot camp, Rubel found himself in the thick of the fight. But though death constantly surrounded him, and despite being wounded in battle, he fulfilled his purpose, stayed the course, and did his job. Even after earning a Purple Heart, he continued to live everyday to the fullest, like it was the last. Ever-examining his own actions, he took his life’s work seriously and consistently completed every task on his To-Do list, right up until his Last Day, 88 years after his first.

Watching the procession, thinking back to grandpa’s own parade just a few weeks before, I couldn’t imagine him being surprised by anything, especially that final lap. On his last day I just can’t see him tossing his To-Do list out the window and spending his final hours rethinking his life. Although his passing caught me off guard, like a caravan of headlights on a sunny morning, I have no doubt that Grandpa was prepared, ever ready. Going about his business like it was just another day, I imagine him checking off each event in his day planner, till everything was done, complete, and ultimately finished.

Eventually, the last limousine passed, and I put my idling car in gear. Glancing into the rearview mirror, I watched a meandering double row of red taillights flash in lazy, random succession; the caravan was in no hurry. The mad dash to beat the First Period bell was over, at least for the departed. As for the rest of us…

Pulling back onto the road, I realized that my kids were not the only ones who made it to school on time. Everything we see and experience is a classroom. And rolling down the road between the world and my home, I considered the lesson. I thought about the cadence of my life and how so much of it was spent finding the right rhythm for a song. I mused about my constant daily-dash to beat the clock, to make the next concert. And how so precious little of my time was available to be a part of my family’s rural routine.

How would I spend my last day?

Envisioning the many birthdays, graduations and weddings I may miss, the vibrations of my wheels on the pavement began to pulse like a metronome, like a song.

If this should be my last day on this earth
How then shall I live?

As the words began to flow, I felt the familiar need to write them down, and my foot involuntarily grew heavier on the accelerator.

If this should be the last day that I have…

Aware of both the forming words and my sudden reason to get home, I realized I was actually answering The Question; I was on the job, fulfilling my purpose. If this was my last day, I wasn’t tossing my To-Do list out the window; I was trying to get to paper and pen.

Before I breathe the air of heaven
Let me live it with abandon…

The faster the words came, the tighter I gripped the steering wheel. Mindful of the center line and the boundaries of my journey, I considered the importance of ‘staying the course’; not just within my lane, but on that ultimate road between the world and my heavenly home.

If tomorrow comes to find me
Looking in the face of Jesus
Will I hear Him say the words, “Well done”?

Everything we see and experience is a lesson. And taking my kids to school that morning, I got an education. I learned the answer to the query that has been put to everyone who has ever lived; the same non-rhetorical question that a young student once nervously posed to his professor, the great Martin Luther.

“What would you do today, if you knew it was your last?” 

Luther thought for a moment, then turned to the student with the same air of resolve his adversaries had come to know. “Well, I would go home and ….plant a tree.” 

Looking at the Reformation leader sideways, the young scholar wrinkled his brow, “Plant a tree? What is the spiritual significance of that?” 

“The significance?,” Luther replied, “None. The tree is on my list of things to do today… If you are living your life ever-ready to meet you Maker, then your last day should be no different than any other.” 

***
Stepping into the house, I threw my keys on the counter, picked up a pad and pen and recorded the morning’s events in verse.

I pull over to the side of the road and I watch the cars pass me by
The headlights and black limousines tell me someone is saying goodbye
I bow my head and I whisper a prayer, “Father, comfort their broken hearts”
And as I drive away there’s a thought that I cannot escape,
No, I cannot escape this thought

As I scribbled the words on to the page, it felt comforting, fulfilling. And I realized this was my purpose, my work; my songs were seeds, my version of planting trees. If I live my life Rubel Rudd’s Way; prepared, ever-ready, ever-mindful not only of birthdays and weddings, but of the funerals – yet to be, I will never be caught off guard by what may come down the road. Like Grandpa, the cadence of my life will be a lesson for my children, no matter how long the Chapman family shuttle stays in business.

And when my last day comes, it will be no different than any other; for when that final bell tolls, it will merely be a sign that I was prepared and I made it to my next class…on time.

——————–
 

PRAYER:
No more daydreams. Don’t let me live a rhetorical life. Let every page of my day planner be as relevant as the last five minutes of my calendar. When I reach the end of the road, and You review my To-Do list, let me hear the words ‘Well done”, that I may be worthy of that next classroom; that endless day, far brighter than the Tennessee sun.

…I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have redeemed my pledge; I look forward to the prize that is waiting for me, the prize I have earned. The Lord, the judge whose award never goes amiss, will grant it to me when that day comes…

2 Timothy 4:6-8
Knox New Testament,
(Burns, Oates, and Washbourne, Ltd. 1945, London)

“Last Day On Earth”
Words and music by Stephen Curtis Chapman

I pull over to the side of the road
And I watch the cars pass me by
The headlights and black limousines
Tell me someone is saying goodbye
I bow my head and I whisper a prayer,
“Father, comfort their broken hearts”
And as I drive away there’s a thought
that I cannot escape
No I cannot escape this thought
I can’t get away

If this should be my last day on this earth
How then shall I live?
If this should be the last day that I have
Before I breathe the air of heaven
Let me live it with abandon to
The only thing that remains
After my last day, here on earth

If this should be my last day here on earth
If this should be my last day here on earth
If this should be my last, last day here on earth
And if tomorrow comes to find me
Looking in the face of Jesus
Will I hear Him say the words “Well done”?

If this should be my last day on this earth
How then shall I live?
If this should be the last day that I have
Before I breathe the air of heaven
Let me live it with abandon to
The only One that remains
After my last day
Here on earth

If this should be my last day
Here on earth
If this should be my last,
My last day here on earth

Cause this could be my last,
This could be my last
This could be my last day

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text.

Start typing and press Enter to search