time to become…
These days there’s much less than I can define. In the three weeks since I lost my mother and became a 35-year-old orphan, the oldest one left of my blood-line, I have found myself lost in experience like a new pilot in dense cloud. I’m like a student that joins a school mid-way through the term, at the wrong time of year, wearing new clothes having left a new house far away from his old home.
Every day is different in this new world. And I’m OK with that. It’s time to soak it up – not just bottle, label and write it all down.
Yet This last weekend something happened – something that joined the dots and lit up just a little of the path ahead. And I think I want to try and write about it…
Being in a room with people far cleverer than myself used to bother me when I was a boy. But over the 48 hours I loved staring up at the insight and intellect that left vapour trails way above my head. As my church gathered with the team from this place, we learnt a little of what it might mean to live a better life because of, rather than in spite of, pain, suffering and sadness. We learnt about community and connection, about the art of living life in view of others.
My brain not being what it was I spent much of the first few hours in confusion, struggling to translate the words. Then came the exercises, the conversations and the swift break in the clouds as some truths about my life emerged: that my loss is not just a loss, but also a chance for some things to be different in the future; that these feelings of being alone are not just new, but ancient feelings that I resisted in times past; that my days are not capable of being only either good or bad – but fully alive to everything going on in and around me.
The last point has hit me the hardest. I remember something that happened to me less than 24 hours after I kissed my mum’s cooling forehead and closed her eyes. I was walking across a field with my daughter. The sky was clear, the grass stroked by the breeze, my daughter running – so full of delight in the fullness of life. It floored me. I wept for the complete beauty of the experience, the fact that it was so alive and indescribably full. For a few minutes I felt this and then I wondered why I was crying about something so polar-opposite to grief. I told myself that in fact I was most likely crying because I was missing my mum, and the tears started to come from another source.
I was right about missing her. I do, more than I could have imagined. But I was right about the life of it all – about the power of so beautiful an experience. Somehow death has turned up the contrast and brightness, leaving life bolder, and – yes – even better.
I never saw suffering as an indication of the absence of God, nor did I see it as the worst thing that could ever happen. But at best I could only ever get it down to the status of chronic inconvenience, a thorn in the flesh that would be better out than in. Yet now it seems as though I might be seeing it differently. Perhaps all this might just be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
“It’s time to become a man, Craig.”
I didn’t really grasp them when she said these words to me. But now I think that perhaps my mum was spot on as she used some of her last breaths to form these words. Now they’ve become a motto I choose to live by – a compass for the future. It’s time to feel it all, not retreating in fear but allowing life’s elements to prove, strengthen, brighten, grow and graft me to others.
One last point. I always liked the line in James 1:2 that tells us to ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.’ And that’s the way I always thought of it – as an instruction, a gentle reminder to reframe the hard times into something positive rather than negative. But let’s forget that particular dualism for now, and instead consider this; perhaps this is more a statement of fact than intention.
Just as labour’s pains give way to life, so too do life’s pains open the door to something more meaningful, more powerful, more… alive. It’s hard to avoid the cliché here, but somehow I’m convinced that just as my mum’s fullest experience of faith came in the days before she died (and believe me, that’s saying something), our losses have the potential – if we choose to take up the challenge and stumble along their path – to be among the greatest things that ever happen to us.
Well. It seems like the words aren’t so elusive after all.
- the death of busyness
- does charity need reinvention?
- social media, christianity and the whiff of hypocrisy (or why I get annoyed with christians on twitter and Facebook)
- Deciding Enough Is Enough
- the way the river flows