Alive and well, despite government notification

Voices of Religion

Posted: Friday, July 21, 2006

Satchel Paige had it right, when he said: “Don’t look over your shoulder. Something might be gaining on you.”

On Oct. 9, 2004, a letter from the Social Security Administration came to our home. The letter began, “Dear Mrs. Thornton, we send you our sympathies on your recent loss... . Beginning in September, 2004, you will begin receiving survivor’s benefits as a result of the death of Charles Thornton (Social Security No. ****D ( D for DEAD) ... .”

Needless to say, it was a bit disconcerting, especially since Charles Thornton was sitting there as Janice read the letter, and it was October and no benefits had arrived.

On Sunday, there were white lilies on the keyboard when Janice arrived to play. Friends met her with l-o-o-o-n-g faces to express sympathy. All the while Chuck was fairly busy doing his Sunday stuff.

On Oct. 12, we drove to Anchorage to the Social Security office, and consulted with a man named Clarence (reminds me of Clarence, Angel Second Class, from Jimmy Stewart’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”), who checked on the computer.

Sure enough! There it was. I was “sure enough dead,” and computers never lie. Clarence helped greatly. I don’t think the Social Security Administration has an employee rating designated “Angel Second Class,” but if they do, Clarence graduated from that long ago at the head of the class.

After I wrote a note saying the “I, Charles G. Thornton (Social Security No. ****D) was, on Oct. 12, 2004, indeed alive,” and signed it three times, he told me I was alive, and that he would see that Janice’s survivor benefits would be taken away. (NOTE: the “D” will also be removed from that Social Security number.)

It suddenly dawned on me that it took from Sept. 26 until Oct. 9 for Janice to realize that I was “no longer here.” For that matter, I could have conserved a lot of energy during those days, as well, by simply lying down and acting the part — or at least going fishing.

Now about the loss of benefits: Well, Janice said right out loud that she would prefer having me to the benefits any day.

For a while there I thought I might have to pull a Tom Sawyer and attend my own funeral service, but that was not to be.

You may be thinking: What’s the point of all this? Why go into all this blather about a major mix-up by some government employees?

I’m glad you asked. You see, we are here on this earth for a purpose. Something more than just passing on and leaving a bit more Social Security benefits for someone. Something more significant than simply being born, growing up, getting an education, having a job, becoming married, starting and raising a family, growing old, retiring and then dying.

Like Satchel Paige, I want to look ahead to the great opportunities and positive experiences of life, not back in fear of what might be “gaining on me.” I’m not too surprised if some troublesome times come along. Isn’t that the human condition? But I don’t think either you or I were placed on this earth for the purpose of living in fear.

God created us for something more than simply existing for 40, 80 or — perhaps, someday — 120 years on this earth and then moving off this mortal coil.

Your life, as well as mine, is intended to leave a greater impact on earth than the hole you leave when you take your thumb out of a bucket of water.

The old hymn gives us part of the answer, when we sing: “Faith of our fathers ... we will be true to thee ’til death.” That faith is evidence that we believe there is more to life than simply here and now.

It demonstrates an awareness and commitment to the fact that we are designed for eternity — that we are conscious that God has “put eternity in (our) hearts.” Living out a commitment to the teaching and outlook of the Bible provides us with a life that is the most happy, helpful, hard (yes, Mabel, Christians may well find difficulties in life — not everybody likes the implications of biblical teaching), and hopeful of any religion on earth.

So, while friend wife still has me around (that’s good), I happily admit that both of us have confidence that one day when Clarence checks on the computer and discovers that Charles G. Thornton (Social Security No. ****D) is “sure enough dead,” he will be in a far better place — a place promised by the one whose birth we honor at Christmas, and whose death and resurrection we celebrate at Easter.

Charles G. Thornton is pastor at large of Peninsula Grace Brethren Church, 44175 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Soldotna. Sunday worship services are at 11 a.m., Bible classes begin at 9:30 a.m.

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