Today Joyce Critchlow hangs by a thread. Doctors said she went into renal failure late last week. Most people would have checked out by now, but she's tough, and she's still with us. Her children have come in from all around the country, they hover by her bedside, counting her every breath. Each time the question is very real: Is this the last one? Has that moment come? We know it will, but no one can hurry the body without incurring the wrath of the law and loved ones (rightly so.)
Last night my wife made an insightful comment. Waiting for death is like waiting for birth. Outside of C-sections and executions, these are mysteries that work on a timetable that knows nothing of calendars and clocks. The body's rhythms work in their own way, and when things are ready they happen. All we can do is stand by in expectation and wait. Everyone is reduced to the same level. The king awaits the birth of the heir apparent just the same as the peasant one more mouth to feed. The homeless man on the street is attended by his half-sober friends the same as the head of state by high officials as they approach the end of this mystery we call "life."
It reminds me of three things:
- Calendars and clocks are human inventions and conventions to assist us in community, but they describe reality, they do not, and will never prescribe it. There exist many ways to reckon time. Perhaps some of the other ways conceal wisdom that in our day we've learned to forget.
- Under the skin we are all the same. We are born, we live, we love, we struggle and we die. There are only a few human stories to be told. They come in an infinite variety of variations, but ultimately any person's story is my story, and my story is every person's story. Every child is my child, every parent is my parent, every struggle is my struggle and every joy is my joy. What an irony it is when a child is born of rape or a man is killed in war. The child is just as alive as if born of the loving union of husband and wife, and the man is just as dead as if laid to rest after a long and fruitful life. Even our violence cannot disrupt these rhythms of life, they become somehow, part of the great story of our species. Grace flows in everything, for everything is connected.
- Birth and death are gateways through which we only see through a glass darkly. We're born naked, we die naked. We come with nothing and we leave with nothing. We're told what comes next, but we do not comprehend it. We're told that nothing comes before, but we can never be sure. What we have is now. Our faith tells us that what counts is the quality of the relationships we build, and seminal to all relationships is that primordial relationship with God. Life is a window into an existence for a space in time, eternity is whatever wall or building that window is in. The only vista our dark vision renders is relationships now.
It is truly better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.