I’m writing with the encouraging group of writers at Five Minute Friday today. If you need an injection of creativity or reflection in your life, I invite you to join us!
I’m watching the string from my Venetian blinds blow in the cool morning breeze. The gaping, aching hole is still there this morning. My four year old says as I cuddle him, “It’s like we’re in a nightmare.” He doesn’t even know what he’s saying but he’s right. It is like a nightmare.
This neighbor that I knew well enough to wave but not well enough to sit down and drink tea with, the one I’ve watched dozens of times load her infant carrier in her car, whose husband I know well enough to stop and greet, whose little three year old boy makes me slow down as I turn by her house, she’s gone. Twenty-four hours ago she was here. By all accounts a beautiful, loving wife, mother, daughter, working with pregnant teenagers to find a way to enrich lives, theirs and their babies. Gone.
I decided a long time ago that no matter what medical scientists say, there is no such thing as instantaneous death. There must be a few seconds, maybe a few moments before the ambulances come, before the coroner arrives to pronounce death and I can’t even think of it. I just can’t. My mother’s heart aches and wishes I still had milk to share. That I knew them well enough to stop by and gather up dirty laundry. That I could do something. In that supposed instant she must have been thinking of them, crying out for the baby she would never nurse again, for the husband she would never kiss again, for the boy she would never tuck in again. And that instant has turned into a nightmare for those still living.
Last night I couldn’t speak for thinking of who would tuck that boy in. For what it would be like when she cried her infant cry for the mom that was her rock, her very life, giving her sustenance. So I pray and I weep and I hold my boys tight and I hug my husband as he leaves. And he says what I know our neighbor would have said if he had only known it was his last day to embrace his wife. But he didn’t. And now she’s gone.
The fundamental brokenness of this world creeps in slowly through cancer. It seeps down deep in our psyche as the foundations of our stability crumble in depression and mental illness. Sometimes it just sucker-punches a whole community as they gasp with the news that a woman was killed, no warning, no goodbyes, just gone.
The candles flicker at the prayer vigil. Voices break, sobs are muffled. We sit and kneel and cling to the altar. I look at the stained glass portrait of our God on the cross, intimately acquainted with suffering. I ask him if he can truly bear this load, if he can come in a way that will hold these children who miss their mother’s arms, if he can bring any comfort to this wound, this rending of a whole family, a whole town, a whole seminary community. My eyes flicker to the left, to the other image in stained glass, his hands are raised. Is he praying? Is he ascending? I’m not sure but those hands look strong to me in that instant, strong enough to hold the broken. To comfort the living.
I remember again that it is Ascension Day. I remembered this morning and promptly forgot; I’m only a fledgling Anglican, still learning the rhythm of liturgical living. I think of him, ascending to heaven in his resurrection body. That he knelt down from heaven yesterday to receive her soul out of her broken body but that her broken body is not the end of the story. That she will be raised in a resurrection body. That she will hold that child, that baby and that man again. I have no idea what their reunion will look like in many terms but I know it will happen. Yet here we live: in the in-between. Where, O death, is your sting? Today it is in the motherless children. Today it is in the driveway where only one car sits, not two. Today it is very real.
Comfort, Lord, comfort your people.