I awoke this morning to a wayward and bittersweet heart. I was asked to speak at the memorial service of a dear friend today. I had planned on attending the service, she was, and remains, a perfect warrior of a woman, a veritable Joan of Arc when it came to her children and the cause of righteousness, so I wouldn’t miss her bon voyage party; however, a long time spiritual mentor, another old friend of mine, was handling the speaking duties. He had to leave town to care for his elderly mother and so I got the call. Although speaking at a friends wake, Lou hated funerals, is emotionally testing, this is not the problem with my poor heart this morning.
This is the second death this year that has touched my life. Another family that is precious to me lost their sweet mother this summer past and my thoughts and prayers have found a settling place on her husband and children as the Holiday season has kicked into full swing. Their home was a second refuge to me as a young teenager and seldom have I seen a woman more loved by her children and her husband. And yet, this sad occurrence of the loss of two such matriarchs is not what caused my heart to wend its’ way into melancholy this morning.
No. It was, in fact, the reality of living love and ongoing life that caused my happy countenance so rueful a turn.
My immediate family, my wife of 25 years, and my four children have reached that place on the timeline when we are so busy there are hardly words to express the constant motion. My eldest has had a rough year, hence my absence from the writing sphere as I devoted a large portion of my emotional energy to helping her begin the healing process, and she’s a Junior in High School, now home schooled actually. My oldest son, kid 2, started Junior High football this year and is in all AP classes and Band. My youngest daughter, kid 3, is a competitive dancer, and the baby, who is a precocious 8 year old boy, is starting to find his way into personhood as well. the investment in my family’s journey has become the number one undertaking of my life, running, at least in time, before both the Spiritual and the Artistic. If you know me, you realize what a huge change of priority is so represented.
This morning we are spread all over three counties. Two kids are home. One is with a grandparent. My youngest daughter is at a dance clinic and competition which last two days and requires a stalwart parent to make sure everything runs smoothly, in this case, my adored lover and best friend these past 25 years, my wife Karin. As I was seeing them off at 6:30 a.m. I was struck suddenly and violently with the fragility and fleeting nature of life. I plan on seeing my wife and daughter this evening, as I usually do, but there are, as always, no guarantees. When I watched them drive away, my prayers and their kisses still on my lips, I realized again, that every goodbye, every “I love you,” every touch, could be the last.
And then the sad came, like creeping darkness, like a thick, cold fog.
For a moment I pondered the Buddha’s teaching that connection leads to suffering, and that freedom from suffering is as simple or as hard as letting go of all of your earthly connections. And then, in grateful voice I said, “I would make a lousy Buddhist.” My faith, I’m a Jesus guy, teaches that connection to other people, love for them in fact, is the only true ethic outside of loving God Himself, two connections I would not abandon in fear of suffering. And I know I will suffer one day for my loves. Whether it’s my parents or children, that day will come; but, from everything I have seen so far the pain is so worth the joy.
You see, grief is a shadow cast by the great light of love. There would be no shadow, but only if there were no light. And I, for one, would not trade this topsy-turvy, crazy, beautiful life of love to avoid the pain of it’s ending. Many people, myself included, believe in an afterlife, a heaven, but like C.S. Lewis, I am inclined to reject any view of Heaven that just makes it just a prettier version of what we have here. I’m sure there will be a homecoming of sorts, but the life we live now, we live once. These relationships are a one time offer. These experiences are single shot moments of joy that we cherish and remember and ponder and learn from. They are but the pleasure of a moment. I’m not saying that Heaven won’t be awesome (I could hear my more fundamental friends grinding their teeth), I’m just saying, and the Holy Book supports this, that Heaven won’t just be a continuance: the old things have passed away.
So letting go of my family today, I really had to let them go. And if, the Lord spare me one more day, this was my last goodbye, I at least tried to make it count.