Qoheleth Looks at Himself
Act One, Scene One [bedroom] Old man awakens in the dark lit bedroom, swinging his feet over the side of his bed and into his slippers. He’s woken from a strange dream, one he can’t remember, but that left him clammy and sweating. He feels a bit better when he stands up, and better still as he walks toward the bedroom door. It has that eerie appearance doors have when backlit, outlined in the night. He goes through the door, and it swings shut behind him. Automatically he grabs the knob, but the door is locked. He’s in an unfamiliar hallway now- long, filled with doors on both sides and little else. He steps forward, without realizing his final adventure begins now.
Scene Two [Old man opens hallway door on left, and shuts it quickly- the babies inside were crying so loudly, and there are so many of them! All the other doors are locked, including the door he came out of. Reluctantly, he opens the nursery door and cautiously steps in. Amazingly, when he looks down at himself standing in a nursery he’s wearing blue scrubs and a mask and booties over his shoes. Gone are his nightclothes, his slippers.]
[Old man and the infant: Old man leans over crib]
O.M.: Hello little fellow. How’s life treating you? I hope you enjoy your infancy and treasure the time that is still good in your life. Before you know it, life will become a grind. Your body will hunch over, and nothing will have any meaning. Perhaps you will do great things, like build a mansion or make millions in the stock market, but by the time you finish, you will find it all meaningless. There is nothing so powerful or so meaningful in this life that you should forget to heed God’s will. Enjoy yourself while you can, but keep things in moderation. God needs to be respected, feared, and revered. I believe that he wants you to have a joyous life, but you and I cannot possibly understand his desires. Men work tirelessly to build their wealth, in the process scorning relationships and missing out on the true joys of life. I know I have, but God does not wish that for us. We should be happy, but “stay within the boundaries” and above all, respect God. I have come to this great realization too late in my life. I just pray you can learn it faster than I did. I see you are just an infant though, with your big wide eyes and drooling mouth, so how could you possibly comprehend what I am telling you. I’ll leave you in peace now, little one.
[The old man straightens up, not recognizing the irony of the situation: that he is at this moment the alpha and the omega, looking at his beginning and living his end]
Scene Three [Old man opens hallway door on right, now the only one unlocked. When he puts his foot through it changes from medical booties to sneakers. Fascinated, he steps in. He’s transported immediately into the playground of a local park he remembers from his youth. In the background are sounds of children laughing. The old man is talking to a seven year old boy, achingly familiar- perhaps his grandson?]
[Old Man and 7-year old: Old man stands next to the seven year old.]
7-year old: Grandpa, Grandpa, pick me up! I want to ride high on your shoulders! (The boy is smiling ear to ear)
O.M.: Alright little one, hold on. Let me get a hold of you. You are just so full of life today aren’t you? [He bends over and gets a firm grip on the young one, then picks him up and holds him close to his chest]
7-year old: Grandpa, why are you so tired and never smiling?
O.M.: I am old! I have lived my life whereas you are just starting! Tell me about school. What are you learning?
7-year old: I am learning addition and subtraction and how to tell time from the hands of a clock. I don’t know why they make clocks without the easy numbers, but I am pretty good at telling the time from those tough clocks. We also do a lot of reading, Grandpa.
O.M.: Wasting your time in that classroom instead of playing outside is a mistake. You should be enjoying yourself, running around with your friends and exploring the world around you. Life is to be savored, not disrespected. I have spent my entire life searching for wisdom and trying to understand how God works, yet I can’t begin to understand his strengths and abilities. Tell me, have you got a best friend at school?
7-year old: I do Grandpa. His name is Kyle. But don’t I need to learn everything that they teach me at school? My teachers and mommy and daddy say I need to learn everything, and I need to be good at it. I have to do my homework every night. I can’t play all the time Grandpa – that just sounds crazy!
O.M.: The only thing worth your energy out of your entire day is your best friend Kyle. Relationships are one of the few things in life that are not completely meaningless. All your addition and subtraction will allow you to go through life a little easier, but it truly is worthless! A waste of your time and of your life. The schools drain your energy, and by the time you realize it, your life is near its end. Don’t waste it! You need to enjoy yourself. God wants you to be happy. Just don’t let your actions become too extreme.
End scene 3 [Old man feels propelled backwards towards hallway, and mildly concerned at this he strains against it, but his efforts are futile. He is back in the long hallway now, and the seven year old is only a memory.]
Scene 4 [Old man feels compelled to open another door on the left, that he knows for certain will not be locked, while he’s pretty sure all of the others are. Old man steps though the door onto a grassy field, a levee, where during the day kids can run around and throw a Frisbee and at night, this stretch is known as lover’s lane.]
[Old Man and 16-year old: Old man approaches a teenager hanging out on the levee.]
16-year old: I am flying high today! I was just named the MVP for my basketball team and I got my SAT score – a 1450! I am doing great in school and have a promising college career ahead of me – I have life by the tail! I am living the dream!
O.M.: You have no idea what life is about or what dream you are chasing. What will being the MVP of your basketball team mean? What will going to a great college do for you? No matter what school you go to or how many accomplishments you obtain in your life, you will still die. Death will come for you just like it comes to the fools, to the homeless, and to the poor. When you are near death and trying to understand everything that this life is about, what will your education and achievements prove? You will realize too late that you have wasted your life working tirelessly. You should be enjoying your life! Hard work is for fools. The wise live life to experience joy. They eat, drink, and are merry. This life is a gift from God, and he wants us to feel good. All the other bullshit is meaningless.
16-year old: Listen here old man! You sound crazy, depressed, and just plain ignorant. If I ate, drank, and just enjoyed every day, I would never get ahead in life. I need to build at least a little wealth for myself. I need an education so I can survive and thrive in today’s business world. I find joy in my accomplishments and education. The fact that some bad days or hard days are necessary to achieve those accomplishments and successes is fine with me. That is the life we live. I believe that you should have as much fun as possible while working hard, but steps forward need to be taken. I also believe that more fun and enjoyment will come from the stages of life that can only be accomplished through hard work and sacrifice. The things you are preaching makes you sound like a communist! Hard work and getting ahead is the American Dream. I believe in the things I am doing. I know I should respect my elders, but you sound ridiculous.
O.M.: You are young and stupid! I know life looks bright from your shoes, for I was there at one point in my existence. I am trying to save you the years of experience and realization that it took for me to understand that all is meaningless! Just enjoy yourself. Enjoy the world and the people around you. Wealth, possessions, and wasted years of hard work have no meaning or value on the day of your death.
End scene 4 [The old man throws his hands up in exasperation, muttering to himself about youth wasted on the young and heads back through the door to the hallway.]
Scene 5 [The old man opens a door in the hallway, only slightly surprised at this point to see a conference room, empty except for a young man in a grey suit, sitting tensely next to a speakerphone, surrounded by 11 empty chairs. As the old man steps through, he looks down at his own attire to find that it perfectly mirrors the man in the grey suit. He walks forward and sits in one of the empty chairs.]
[Old man and 32-year old: Old man listens as young man talks about his life]
32-year old: I cannot believe a baby is on the way. My wife is healthy and I have a secure job in a strong company. Life could not be better.
O.M.: Please John, heed my words. Your child and your wife are the most important things God gave you in this life. Love your wife and find solace in her. Your child is the only thing that will carry your name and memory on after you die. There is no point in building up wealth if you cannot leave it to someone wise and righteous. Your job is meaningless. Do not let it consume your time and thoughts. A day at work and not with your family is a day wasted. God wants us to enjoy our relationships and be happy in life. Find that joy in your wife and child and relish every moment.
32-year old: I am just on the cusp of a promotion at work. If I can work a little harder, even though I might miss the early days of my child’s life, I can secure a better, higher paying position. My work is also important to me. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and I enjoy the interaction with me peers. That promotion is exactly what I need. I will work around the clock until I get it. When I do get that promotion, I am sure it will carry more responsibility and more hours of work, but the pay will be great. My family will understand and I will see them as much as I can.
O.M.: Oh John. You are mistaken. God does not care about your promotion. He cares about your enjoyment of life and the relationships you develop. Focus on your wife and children, for anything less would be foolish.
O.M. [aside to audience]: will no one listen to me today? I know that I was exceedingly stubborn at different points in my youth, but surely I was at least open to reason? Or was I? Would I have listened to the rants of an old man when I was his age? Or was I too caught up in the rat race? Have I wasted my life? [The old man leaves the conference room for the now-familiar door-lined hallway.]
Scene 6 [Car dealership- old man steps through the door into the dealership with no hesitation, drawn to the shiny and new; in his excitement at seeing all the gleaming red and black metal, he’s practically forgotten the odd events of the morning. He sees a man of about 50 talking with one of the salesman. As he approaches, he finds that this scene, out of all of the others, is calming. He feels no need to intervene, but merely watches. After the deal is closed, and the salesman wanders upstairs to get the paperwork done, the old man walks to the 50 year old.]
Old man and 50-year old:
O.M.: Why did you spend over 100,000 dollars on a new Porsche?
50-year old: I just needed something. I needed something to feel alive again. If you want to call it a mid-life crisis, so be it, but I needed something to get my juices flowing again.
O.M.: Do you enjoy your day more when you hear the engine roar to life? Are you a happier person with that car in your driveway?
50-year old: I really am. I know I could have given a large sum of money to charities instead of buying my Porsche, but that car gives me a smile every day.
O.M.: Then I believe you made the right choice. The car itself is meaningless. Riches and possessions are all worthless. But that feeling of unbridled joy when your foot is crushing down on the gas pedal – that is priceless. That is what life is all about. That is why we are here. God gave us the ability to feel joy and wants us to use that ability. But be careful of losing yourself in your riches. Vanity is a dreadful mistake.
50-year old: The material possessions I have acquired are such a big part of my life that I can’t imagine my world without them. I have had to kill myself working for a tyrant, but my compensation is the money I have made and the many things that money enabled me to buy.
O.M.: Bite your tongue! Don’t ever bad mouth anyone, because you never know who is listening. Those words can always get back to the man who you are bad mouthing, and if your boss heard what you are saying, you would be jobless. Very, very stupid. But maybe you should lose your job. Why are you wasting your last decent years working harder and harder for an ungrateful boss and worthless possessions? God cares nothing for that. I thought you were on to something, but I now am realizing that you too have lost your way.
50-year old: Well you have no idea what is good for me, or what my life should be about. Just because you have all those years behind you does not mean that you know anything more valuable than what I do. Good day to you, you presumptive, crazy old man.
[The 50 year old man leaves the dealership, and the old man is left to go back to the hallway. He feels that maybe some of his comments hit home, and were not so easily dismissed. In fact, he seemed to remember himself at that age, loving possessions, hating his job, and always there was the thought he ignored at the back of his mind- What does God want for me to do?]
Scene 7: Nursing Home:
[Old Man stumbles out of his bed in the nursing home. His roommate sees him]
Roommate: What the hell were you muttering in your sleep?
O.M.: I saw myself at all different ages of life. I tried to educate the younger versions of myself about the realities of life and the truths I have discovered. But I couldn’t believe or know them then, and I could not convince my younger selves now.
Roommate: How do you know the ‘truths’ you believe today are indeed the realities life has to offer?
O.M.: I just know. Experience. Maybe I don’t know all of the universal truths, but I know MY truths.
[Old Man watches his mortal body as it crashes to the ground with a massive heart attack]
Old Man’s spirit looks up from the body on the floor towards the door in the wall, realizing for the first time how similar it is to the ones in his dream. As he heads towards the door, curiosity getting the better of him, he steps over his body lying prone on the ground. As he opens the door, he sees the long hallway of doors. He realizes he’s dead now, and he’s scared but determined. He will again go to each door and try to plead with himself, as he now realizes, at each age. Now the old man knows each room has been a scene from his life, slightly changed from reality, blurred by the intervening years. As he has been walking down the hallway, he’s been walking to judgment. But is the lesson learned what God intended? In each of these rooms is a sliver of his self, each one containing a tiny piece of home, whether a scent, a noise, or a familiar object. The old man now thinks about how solitary and empty it is in the hallway. He hesitates before going through the final doorway, realizing he’s more than afraid, he’s terrified. What if his efforts haven’t been enough? What if he goes through the final set of doors and realizes nothing has changed? What if only his last few years have been lived in a way that is pleasing to God? What will he say to God in his defense? He’ll have to tell God the truth, his own truth – that even when, throughout his life, God sent him a message, to enjoy life, to enjoy relationships, to do nothing too extreme, that it was only in the last few years of life that he heeded any of these messages. He hopes that this will be good enough for God, but still he feels scared. He puts his hand on the door, and as the knob turns, he finds himself fervently praying that he’s good enough.]
End act. End scene. End play. End life.