Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hello, Goodbye, May

Some months leave me at a loss for words. May was one of those months. As I look back, I'm not even sure what happened in May that made it flit by so quickly, but now it is over. June has arrived.

In May I unexpectedly flew to California to join my family in facing the terrible demon of cancer, stealing life from one we all know could have much left for which to live.

For those on what I call the "front lines," visiting the hospital daily, I think the days feel like continuous pressure on the heart, the throat, the head, and the soul. I think there is occasional relief, but it is not a romantic experience. I think it is moment-by-moment progress of coming to terms -- complicated by not knowing what to come to terms with as one day to the next becomes a study in the complete fallibility and non-omniscience of doctors who can't really say what is going to happen.

Under the circumstances, we are all reminded of our personal vulnerability. I don't mean that we are all thinking with gravity about the fact that we are all going to die someday, although that is true. I never once reflected on the unavoidability of my own death. I thought only about the unavoidability of loss.

For my part, in my brief days providing a moment of companionship and cheer to my family, I was constantly berating myself for an overabundance of selfishness. In these moments it is impossible not to berate myself for how frequently I think about how all this is affecting me or I am failing to live up to my own expectations of myself to bring some kind of relief and encouragement to my Papa and my other family members.

It is impossible to know how to empathize with my grandfather, or what to do in his presence to provide encouragement, relaxation, and a smile. How to make these moments positive for him is the question ... but I am so often caught up in myself, thinking too centrally, trying to figure out what I should do to make the situation better, continually falling flat. And it's just as uncomfortable as hearing a vocal soloist fall flat in front of an audience, only more mortally so. When we stand so close to this bridge from one life to the next, there is very little we can rely on ourselves to accomplish. All below us uncharted territory and opaque rushing waters.

There is only One who has traversed back and forth between the two lives successfully on our planet, and we have to rely on His hidden presence for grace. That grace may remain unfelt at all times in our experience of what is happening, but it must be there. In moments we only know this because He promised it to us, and we believe Him. Only He has the Words of Life.

So many people have brought beauty into the world through their experience with ashes (I am thinking of many, but particularly C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed comes to mind). I suppose I expected some kind of tragic beauty to come to bear on the senses. All I actually perceived was the bumbling awkwardness of humanity trying to figure out the connection between the finite and the eternal, and where we fit in the space between. How do we let our comrade transcend? How do we separate body and soul? Our souls and our bodies want to give in to the agony of loss. It is a task, and rather odious at that. At least from my side of the life cycle.

Ah, I need a break.

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