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Everything is ephemeral, but try telling that to a 14-year old high school student

      “Moving me down the highway, rolling me down the highway. Moving ahead so life won’t pass me by.”

      The song is “I’ve Got a Name,” written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox. It was a Jim Croce hit.

      One of my favorite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities,” says Qoheleth, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” (Eccl 1:2)

      In my high school classroom, cultural references are becoming harder for me to make. Take the film “The Wizard of Oz,” for example. Fewer and fewer of my high school 14-year old freshmen have seen the film. Thus, any reference to it is becoming more and more meaningless.

      Now think about that.

      If you are in the neighborhood of my age (63), then it’s hard to believe that anyone could notknow “The Wizard of Oz.” But believe that you should. Allusions to the Yellow Brick Road? Growing dimmer and dimmer.

      All is vanity.

      But has this not always been the case? As of this writing, “The Wizard of Oz” appeared 78 years ago. Now to put that time span in context, consider this. I was 14-years old in the year 1968. At that time, should I have been expected to understand a cultural reference to the year 1890?

      “There is no remembrance of the men of old; nor of those to come will there be any remembrance among those who come after them” (Eccl 1:11).

      Everything is ephemeral. But try telling that to a 14-year old or even an 18-year old. Their whole life is ahead of them, so why would they think life is ephemeral? They are going to live forever!

      Most of my life, on the other hand, is behind me. At this moment, the Grim Reaper could be striding up my driveway. One day he’ll knock on my door. I’ll open that door, and there he’ll stand, hood hiding his face, that bony finger of his right hand pointing at me, while he holds that scythe in his left.

       “Plaiss,” he will say, “your behind is mine,” he’d say.

      However, if my dad is a good barometer, I might have another 25 years left (maybe) before Grim knocks on my door.

      So we fool ourselves. “Keep moving,” we say to one another. Or as Croce sings, “Moving me down the highway.” Right, as if movement will camouflage the vanity; as if movement will provide meaning.

      I can still remember my mom saying to my dad, “Oh, let’s all go for a ride,” and we would pile into the 1960 Chevy Impala and simply drive. Nowhere. But at least we were moving.

      Croce had his finger on the pulse of the people back in 1973. I maintain that pulse is still viable in 2017.  Doubt that?

      Behold our electronic gadgetry! At the moment (and I emphasize “moment”) Snapchat is quite popular. Snap a photo and within seconds of a person viewing the picture, the picture dissolves.

      I rest my case.

      So is all wail and woe now? Negative.

      “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly,” (Jn 10:10) says Jesus.

      Only God lasts. Spouses die and fortunes vanish. “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting.” (Prv 31:30) That leaves only God.

      “Rolling me down the highway” is a rouse! Snapchat is vanity! All is vanity! Latch on to what is real!

      But I return to my quandary: How do you convince a 14-year old of that?

      Try to remember when you were 14. When I was that age, I wanted to be a forest ranger in the Yukon Territory of Canada. I had a huge map of the Yukon Territory tacked up on my bedroom wall at home. I studied that map assiduously. Memorized towns and rivers.

      I recall making a snow fort in my parent’s back yard, and then sitting in it after the sun set, trying to keep warm and telling myself that doing sot was preparing me for my time as a forest ranger in the Yukon, a time yet to come.

      Then I sent off for all kinds of information about the Yukon that I saw advertised in the back of Field & Stream and Outdoor Life magazines.

      One day, just days before my 15th birthday, I received a letter in the mail. It was from Canada, inviting me to obtain Canadian citizenship. I was bewildered; I didn’t ask to be a Canadian citizen. I showed the letter to my mother.       

      She freaked out.

      “They want you to defect!” she cried. Remember, in 1968 the war in Vietnam was raging. Can you say Tet? “They think you want to defect to Canada to avoid the draft!” said mom.

      I had a dream; reality blew it away. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

      Except for God. But God is not a “concept.” God is a person, and that person is sweet. “Your promise is sweeter to my taste than honey in the mouth” (Ps 119:103).

      What you and I must do is somehow, some way, get that 14-year old to taste God. Because once she does? She won’t feel she has to move ahead so that life won’t pass her by.

      She will be hooked on the taste of God. She will be free.


      Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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