It’s springtime in Johannesburg. The late-afternoon sun is still warm, and the light lingers longer than before. The sky is a deep blue, the dust washed away by the weekend’s rain. The breeze carries the occasional whiff of jasmine, or something equally sweet, which fills me with a fling-my-arms-to-the-sky-and-twirl-around kind of joy. Young, vibrant-green leaves are unfurling, not to be outdone by the pink and white blossoming bushes.

It’s springtime in Johannesburg, and it’s lovely.

And yet, the change of season always fills me with a sense of nostalgia. Not in the way that makes me long for the bracing cold winter, I assure you. Rather, in a growing awareness of the passing of time. Spring will soon bound into summer, which will stroll into autumn, before shuffling into winter. The years march on unabated and, for much of the time, I’m not conscious enough of their passing, I don’t savour enough of the laughter in each day.

Today I read this verse:

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12).

It’s a verse I’ve read before, but today I stopped and thought about it. Here are three of my insights:

  • Teach us. This implies that it’s not something we naturally ponder on. It’s uncomfortable thinking about our mortality, about the approaching winter of old-age, and our ultimate death.
  • Number our days. Yes, our days are numbered. Each one of us has a certain allotted amount, but eventually—like the sand trickling through the hour glass—they come to an end.
  • Heart of wisdom. Here lies the wonderful promise. When we think about the shortness of our lives, we gain something valuable—wisdom. I see two reasons for this in my own life. Firstly, I learn to appreciate and enjoy all the precious days and seasons of my life. I don’t take them for granted, but I try to live as purposefully and consciously as I can. Secondly, thinking about my mortality leads me to consider what lies beyond death. It turns my thoughts to God and to ensuring that my relationship with Him is right.

In one of my favourite books, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie,’ Mitch Albom visits his old college professor in the last months of his life. Morrie teaches him some valuable  life lessons, and one of these has stayed with me:

How can you ever be prepared to die? (Mitch)

Every day have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, ‘Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?” The truth is, Mitch, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live. (Morrie)

Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.

Or–as the Psalmist put it a few thousand years before Morrie–you ‘gain a heart of wisdom’.

Photo: courtesy of Nicole Campbell