I’ve always gotten an eery, strange, uneasy, dissatisfied, disturbed, and lost feeling when I look upon older abandoned buildings. Not really buildings that are more recent, as those are just kind of tacky and unsightly, like an ugly thing that just needs to be taken down. But buildings or the remnants of buildings and structures that are aged, old, from history, works of settlement that have been forgotten except that they are still there and rather useless, or maybe they have some historical value and are written about but still unused and abandoned. I’m not talking about a feeling of ghosts or apparitions, evil, or such. I mean that when looking at the structure once proud and new and bustling and now of naught, I have a sense of something much moe than a study of the building or the landscape, or the zoning and community issues. The once used now nothing building speaks of something else, something about we people. Old abandoned buildings are nothing in and of themselves, but they are significant signs of the passing of time, the change of people and places, the lives and deaths of people, the arising of ideas and needs and wants of people who built the building for a purpose that time has proved to be obsolete and faded into the unknown inconsequential past that no one really remembers it with any regard or importance.
This feeling/senseis not unique to me as I’ve heard and read of others with the same view. I believe that Archibald Rutledge characterizes it very well when speaking of the swamp haunts of the oft-inhabited and once thriving Santee River delta region of the South Carolina coast (Indians, rice planting plantations, Revolutionists like the Swamp Fox Francis Marion, and even prohibitionists) in his book Home By The River (http://www.sandlapperpublishing.com/arch.html): “This is a haunted region, for there is no earthly loneliness like that created by man’s abandonment of what he once loved, enjoyed and considered secure and permanent.” The people represented by these buildings were lovers, artists, laborers, laymen, uniquely gifted individuals, children, families, sinners, simple people, ordinary and extraordinary (Romans 3:23). They had major issues and crises that no one probably remembers. How insignificant are our daily burdens and worries!
For the longest time, I pondered this sensation as I would be driving by old factories in Bridgeport and Shelton, CT, as I would visit the once stately and homely houses of the plantations around Charleston. I tried many times to articulate it. I realise now what it is about these structures now abandoned. They speak of the hope and dreams and ideals of a people in the living of their lives who built them and worked and lived in them experiencing life and love and sorrow and pain and hopes and fears. They also at the same time speak of the impermanence of all of the hopes, lives, loves, pains of these people, and this is the louder speech, the more impactful sense.
Our lives are here and gone. We are as only a whisper, a vapor, a scent in the torrential wind (Psalm 39, Ecclesiastes 6:12). We are not permanent ourselves: even the buildings we build crumble and become dust, though they outlast our own lives by incomparable years. We may look at the ancient structures around the world and see what great building and construction has been done that is a monument to the lives and ways of certain people even as they waste away despite all the efforts of historical preservation, but we may not look around the world and see the individuals that are represented by these buildings. They have all died and gone from this earth, though their bodies have returned to dust. It is a near morbid sense of the temporary nature of life of which these buildings speak: the absolute mortality of all men. And yet, there is a hope of life everlasting, an eternity of love and peace and joy with our Creator, the author and perfector of our faith (John 3:15, Hebrews 12).
God, having created us to love him and with the ability to choose to or not to do so, sent Jesus Christ to rescue us from our sins by Jesus’ perfect life, suffering of death on the cross as an innocent and perfect sacrifice in our place (that we deserved because of our sins but were not given because of God’s holy and perfect love and grace and mercy), and his resurrection from the dead to new life that is our only hope for life after we inevitably all die (John 11:25, Acts 2, Romans 4:25).
I see the building crumble
and think how I have stumbled.
My life a whisper is gone,
But God’s salvation goes on!