the tontine

If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time.
And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.

Mahatma Gandhi

(The Rock of Cashel cemetery, County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

A tontine…
A french word used during the 17th century to denote an investment created by several individuals…With the premise being that each member of the group agrees to initially pay a set sum…
The money is never touched, rather it is allowed to grow over time.
As the years pass and the members of the group eventually, one by one, die off, the remaining shares grow…with the last surviving member of the group amassing the lump of the sum plus all accrued interest.

The idea of a tontine played out on one of the episodes of the hit show M.A.S.H.

In this particular episode Colonel Potter, the patriarch of the cast, received a secretive and oddly strange package of which suddenly cast a grave pall over his entire demeanor. Naturally those closest to the beloved leader, Hawkeye, BJ, Margaret and Charles each grew terribly concerned seeing that the Colonel had grown almost inconsolably depressed after having received this most odd package.

The entire episode evolved around what was in the package, what was wrong with Colonel Potter and what could this rag tag group of friends do to help.

Finally Colonel explained…
The package was a bottle of fine French Brandy.

The story behind the bottle was that during World War I, when Colonel Potter was a young soldier, his regiment had found themselves dangerously deep behind enemy lines in German occupied France. His small group of comrades had come upon the bottle of brandy as they hunkered down in an abandoned shell of what was once an elegant home. Right then and there this little group of beleaguered soldiers made a pact, or more appropriately a tontine. Should they survive the war, they would save the bottle of brandy by placing it in a safety deposit box. The bottle would then remain under lock and key until there was but one lone survivor of the group–upon which time the bottle was to be delivered to the “last man standing” who would in turn drink a toast to what had been.

Colonel Potter, who now bitterly found himself still fighting, what seemed to be a lifetime of wars all these many years later, was the last living soul remaining from his once youthful regiment, as his own mortality now mockingly taunted him as it stared him in the face… all the while a lonely bottle of brandy begged to be consumed.

Life is indeed bittersweet.

If we are fortunate, we live a long life supported and surrounded by family and friends.
We journey together through both joy and sorrow, trepidation and gallantry.
We ride the waves of triumph both high and mighty then hold fast and tight during the calamity of storms.
We experience shared moments, good and bad, which become the mortar between the building blocks of our lives.

Then one strange day we suddenly realize, that while we weren’t paying attention or taking much notice, ever so slowly and one by one…our numbers mysteriously have decreased…

We find ourselves on the opposite side of happily ever after, looking back wondering where the time has gone. One by one we are left more and more isolated and alone, until finally we are the last man / woman standing out of a once large troupe of beloved comrades, family and life long companions.

Gone are those who were in our lives to protect, to cheer on, to share with, and to relish with….those who were the life-lines, the wise ones, the sages of our lives…
Leaving us in the unfamiliar position of now being those very things for a much younger lot than ourselves…
A lonely feeling.
A bittersweet feeling.
A very sad feeling.

And that was the very overwhelming realization for dear ol Colonel Potter…

The friends that had transitioned with him from boyhood to manhood, under cloak of war, we’re all now gone. Those who had lived through and understood a lifetime now long past had all but vanished, leaving him as the only remaining one who could recall and understand a time that was as he found himself now surrounded by a much younger group who had not been there nor done that…he was now the odd man out.

Yet through the heavy sense of loss with the weight of age suddenly bearing down and crushing his shoulders, our dear Colonel Potter understood that as he may be the last of his particular group to survive, he was still surrounded by companions, loved ones and friends… albeit of a different generation.
Life was still to be lived, relished and enjoyed.
Occasionally he could look back and recall all that was, but life was indeed for the living and it was time to say good-bye to the past while looking toward the future.

And so as he opened the bottle of bandy that had delightfully mellowed with time, offering a toast to those who once were and to a life that was well lived…he also offered a toast to those standing by his side and to the life that was yet to be…
toasting the memories of friends now gone and toasting the lives of those friends now standing by his side.

May those of us who now find ourselves standing closer to the end of our own life’s tontine remember, that as our numbers maybe decreasing, our importance in the lives of those who come behind us is greatly increasing.
Our experiences, our history, our life’s knowledge is all necessary in order to help light the path for those generations behind us as we continue moving toward an unknown future of the possibilities of what will be.
We stand as the mile markers and guideposts for future generations…may we, with God’s grace, direct them well…

And the world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.
1John 2:17

14 comments on “the tontine

  1. DeniseBalog says:

    I remember seeing this particular episode. Your post is remarkable. Bringing the whole circle of life from one MASH show. Thank you. Wow! You are a Writer!

    • Oh Denise, thank you so much for you kind words—I realized I had an error when I stated that the young WWI soldiers were behind enemy line in “nazi” occupied France–as it wasn’t the nazis but rather just the German forces–pretty bad when wars seem to run together—
      I’ve enjoyed your writings on the hebrew words—when I was in the classroom I always had my kids work on an “alphabet” project where the kids choose any alphabet other than our own latin and create an art piece based off of the alphabet of choice—hebrew was a favorite choice—I also incorporated a lot of hebrew in my own art projects—thank you so much for sharing—hugs to you–Julie

      • DeniseBalog says:

        Don’t you just “hate” that when we post and realize we “messed up” after hours of preparing our best! Thank You Jesus for the hearts of our neighbors who enjoy the posts without looking for mistakes, and enjoy the read the most!! Thank you for sharing about your experience with the Hebrew alphabet. One never knows the exciting journey we have when we open our hearts to the Lord:) My life, and language has never been the same! Blessings, d

      • πŸ™‚ I’ve about decided that like my life, my posts are a continuous work in progress—between my typos, misspellings and grammatical screw-ups–none of them are ever perfect—I’m happy to say that I was the art teacher and not the english teacher πŸ™‚
        But I think God lets me get the gist across despite my shortcomings — πŸ™‚

      • DeniseBalog says:

        πŸ™‚ made me think of the saying, “wherever the cookie crumbles:):):) “Sweet” words and “visual” for a ” Art” teacher:)

  2. Off the top of my head comes first the word brilliant followed by the word stunning and ending with the word steroidally amazing! If I start consuming this honey you sent me, will I be able to post such greatness???? πŸ™‚ ❀

    • you just made me choke on my tea, that is sweetened with said honey as I got tickled reading your honey remark—I don’t think it’s the honey—I didn’t think it was that great—it wasn’t what I had originally intended to write about when I started out…but that’s usually the way it is—I just show up…with honey in tow πŸ™‚

  3. Well it sure as hell is something you’ve and I was hopeful it was the honey so I could tap into your source. Trust me when I sit down and just start writing, mine certainly never morphs into something this brilliant. It’s usually something more on the brown side if you get my drift. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  4. Lynda says:

    This post certainly makes me think of what my life has been about and what it continues to be about and I pray that there will be a message in my life to encourage others to keep the faith. I have been too busy lately to keep up with everything but I pray that things are going more smoothly for you Julie!

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