Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Reflections on Mortality and Holy Week

 It only lasts a minute, maybe two.
That sense of stepping off a cliff -
when a lump rises in your throat,
and immediately catapults into your stomach. 

Or maybe it's more like being blind-sided by a phantom,
a phantom with snarling breath that blows down the back of your collar 
and frizzes the ends of your hair.

You can be living your ordinary, everyday life - 
driving the car, for instance.
Or having lunch with someone you love.
Or resting after minor surgery. 

And wham! It hits you like a bracing splash of ice water:
death happens everywhere.
We are surrounded by it, 
entangled in it,
bewitched by it. 

And most of the time, we are oblivious.

Quite intentionally so, I believe.
We cover it up,
tuck it away,
move it aside.
And we do that with all kinds of things, 
in all kinds of ways.

We do it with food,
or alcohol,
or television,
or reading,
or even - gasp! - writing. 

It's the spectre on everyone's horizon,
the uninvited guest at the table,
the devilish imp around every corner. 

And we don't want to see it.
And much of the time, we don't.
We don't

But then, you turn just a little,
and you cast a glance over the wrong shoulder,
you catch a glimpse 
just there - 
off to the side - 
and the rawness of it socks you in the gut. 
Two sisters, having lunch. 
Best of friends, longtime traveling companions,
singing life's song together for over 85 years.
You stop to take a picture - 
and you see it.
Just there, in the sagging skin.
Or there, in the squinting struggle to see something -
anything that's recognizable.
Or to the right - see it? - the big red walker,
just there,
the one that carries the frail, flailing, failing body
slowly and carefully from place to place.
And you know:
it won't be long now.

Or you take a little drive,
off to find a new dress for a 90-year-old.
You go down familiar streets,
remarking on changes made here and there.
And then - there it is.
The shabby motel where he lived,
your youngest brother,
the one who hid so well -
who hid the drinking and the illness and the shame,
the one who died, far too young.
Over there -  
just there
lurking by the office,
just down from the dark, dank corridor
of his room - you spot it.

And your stomach clenches,
your eyes fill ever so briefly,
your breath catches
between the pleasantries you speak. 

Or you're driving home from the dentist
after a routine surgical procedure,
and your face begins to pound and swell.
Within hours, you look like a prize-fighter,
so you pile in the car for some urgent care.
And you see it again!
Just there,
in the bright red gauze,
the deepening purple of bruise,
the slow, constant tender aching.
No longer a wraith, but a sharp, clear reflection
in the window pane behind the surgeon's worried face. 
The ever-present visitor that no one
wants to see, to wrestle with, even to acknowledge:
we all age;
we all die. 

For these intimations of mortality are all around us,
constant reminders of the ephemeral nature of our
sojourn on this planet.
No one escapes,
no one is immune,
no one is immortal. 

But then...

Holy Week arrives,
right in the middle of the muddle,
amid the weariness of watching death in action, 
inexorable and overwhelming. 
 And a tiny green thing begins to wriggle its way 
to the surface of your soul.
A sprig, really.
A small, tender shoot of hope and life. 
Because somehow,
in the very middle of death itself,
there is this ever-growing wick of light.
As we follow the story 
to the upper room,
to the garden,
to the house of the high priest,
to the halls of Herod and Pilate,
through the narrow winding streets
of the city,
up that pathway marked by the blood of Jesus himself -
even there...
even there.

There is a whiff of green, a scent of spring. 
EVEN THIS, Jesus knows.
This sinking queasiness, this revelation and recognition
that death is an unavoidable part of life -
Jesus has been here, too.
Jesus has been here ahead of us.
And Jesus walks with us when the 
dark, shadowy fears show up and torment us.
Even this, Jesus knows.

So today, and tomorrow, and the next day...
I want to shelter this bit of life amid the ashes;
I want to water it with my tears,
and nourish it with my songs of thanksgiving.
And then I want to position it  
just there,
where the sunlight, 
streaming forth from the empty tomb,
can help it to grow strong and true,
always and forever stretching toward the Light.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade."
1 Peter 1:3-4

Joining with Michelle at Graceful and Jennifer and the Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood at Finding Heaven and the generous Kimberly at Journey to Epiphany, who is temping for Emily Weirenga for a while. I'll also join it to the Lauras, even though it's not a particularly playful post nor is it so much about a place physical as a place emotional and spiritual. And with Ann V, too. (Although I can never get her button to work here.)

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