What can I say? My thoughts whirl around, skittering, avoiding any rest. Oh, how I wish, how I wish so much some times that with a hug I could draw out the sorrow and pain of another and bear it myself. How useless I feel when I give a hug of comfort to the grieving, and it feels like I have left them none better in their sorrow.
And so I struggle with it. I struggle with life, and death, and perhaps most of all with suffering. How suffering is written across the pages of life, and when it comes close to me, how I tremble.
Yes, our lives in this present world are but a moment in the unfurling of eternity. We pass away as quickly as a breath. We are told this many times in the Bible to remind us of humility.
But don’t stop there! Oh no, we are told more than that!
We are reminded time and again in the Bible that our lives are but a breath that we might be in awe of God’s great love.
Our lives are but a moment’s breath, and yet that breath is precious before God. That very small moment that is our lives is very important. To think that such a small, fragile, and fleeting thing is important? The psalmist marvles, “O LORD, what is man that you care for him, the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.” (Psalm 144:3-4)
What are we, these moments in time, that God should care for us? Marvel that He does care for us, so much that the psalmist can say, “He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge.“
We are but a moment, and yet to God we are very, very precious moments.
And so when we tremble as our moments break to peices like shattered glass, there is the hope that God is holding us, down to every moment. It is the great hope against the darkness.
Still, we do tremble.
How quickly moments slip by. There is the laugh that makes our heart glad, the smile that brightens our day, the gathering that makes our hearts grow warm. Quickly they come, and how swiftly they pass. They are the sparkles in our lives that glimmer of greater things, and too often we forget to treasure those moments. So also the moments-who-are-living, the people we love, slip quickly by. Do we see them as we should? Do we know the moments as God knows them?
A moment of mistake. A moment of grinding metal and squealing brakes. In that instant the person God gave us for that moment-which-is-life is gone.
Life is but a moment, and sometimes we forget how much that hurts.
Because it hurts to be even a moment without those we love.
My Aunt was killed yesterday, in a moment. And in that moment she was ripped away from those who loved her.
I think everyone is in shock.
I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to think.
Words cannot adequately describe the pain of seeing those we love suffering under the cutting knife of grief, and that is what I saw today.
It makes me feel helpless. I want to help carry the load, to help stop the heart’s bleeding–a bleeding that is worse than physical blood.
And yet every doing, every word and deed, seems undone, the people beyond touching, alone in their grief.
But I try to remind myself that if the moment of a laugh is important (if only we would stop and see) then so is being there in the moment of another’s grief, even if we don’t feel that we have done anything.
Sometimes it is not the doing, but the being.
Sometimes, what is important is being there, for that moment.
And so I pray, that though I am inadequate, I will be there for the moment, for each moment as it comes.
But still it is hard, because sometimes I so much want to be there to lift up the tears of the crying.
It has been a week since I last wrote here, and still it is with difficulty that I now write. The death of my Aunt Annie sucked out all desire to write, but it has been a week and a day since she died and I need to break through that wall and write something. I cannot remain here, gazing down this dark well, and nothing more.
With death so immediate it has felt almost obscene to write about the typical frivolous things that fill the pages of my domain, and I have found it difficult to grasp the words to write about weighty things–about what has happened. The latter problem is, perhaps, at least in part because it does not feel like this is my story to tell. It wasn’t my mother that was killed, and so anything I should feel or think pales in comparison to those closer and hurting more.
Still, I feel I ought to say something, that I must wrestle with my thoughts. Arielle is the daughter of my aunt, and of my many cousins I am closest to her. It is never easy to watch someone suffer, and the closer you are to the person suffering the harder it is to watch. It is hard to explain how certain memories, certain moments, are burned into our personal history. They are a series of instances, framed, frozen, never to be forgotten, standing forever as monuments to what they evoke.
When I arrived at the grave site for the burial one of the first things I saw was Arielle in her black dress, standing there in the later afternoon. One of her friends stood behind her, giving support in all senses of the word, the two leaning together. They stood arms to arms, hands to hands, and to me it looked as if Arielle, with her back pressed against her friend, had been crucified as if to a tree. I cannot explain the leap of imagery, but it lodged in my mind. Never in my short life have I personally seen such emotional agony embodied in flesh, written across a human frame. Arielle stood there, weak and yet strong, trembling and shaking and yet holding on as she laid her mother to rest.
It is at such moments that I begin to see, so very dimly, how little I grasp about reality. It is a brief moment where the blinders are gone, and the arrow lodges deep. Suddenly I am small and weak, and the world trembles like her body shook.
Only God knows what was going through her mind, but it is a moment I will never forget. I cannot articulate to you what thoughts and emotions that memory brings to me. I don’t think I fully understand them myself.
It is strange how sometimes two seemingly contradictory things can both be equally true. I could never in a lifetime of years be sorry that I went, and that I was there. Sometimes it is literally true that we must stand by someone. And at the same time I wish I never had to see the things I saw there.
But having seen what I saw, I find it hard to speak. Who am I to open my mouth? I have seen one who suffers, but until I have gone through that baptism of fire myself, what right do I have to offer thoughts on such things? It is Arielle who could tell you the story of pain and loss, or perhaps even comfort and hope. It is Arielle who has truly experienced, and even now is experiencing those things. It is her story, and I cannot tell it.
Perhaps some day I too will have that story to tell, and then from the crucible I could speak if I had the mind. But not today.
And yet I was a witness, in some small part, to a profound thing–For life and death are profound. Though the body of my Aunt Annie has been laid to rest, I find that my thoughts are not. Round and round they go, and I don’t know what to do with them. I have found more and more in recent years that while I know many true things about God and life and death, such knowledge does not function as a club to beat my emotions until I can imprison them in nice little boxes. It is a more delicate struggle, that wrestling with emotions which cry out in groans that have no intelligible words. It is a struggle which I am discovering I know so little about.
So, I hope, Arielle (if you read this) that what I write will not seem to be exalting my struggle to the level of yours–for I know that mine is not. I would never want to stand up in the place of your suffering and speak about mine, because I know it is scarcely a pale shadow of what you have been wrapped in. But somehow I would like to know what it means to share in the sufferings of another, and the good that is in that. I would like to think that somehow in the silence of this empty page, and this empty room, I am in some very small way, sharing in that.
I don’t know how to deal with my thoughts, and in such a place I find the best thing to do is pray and return to the scriptures. I have found myself a great deal in this place of not knowing how to deal with my thoughts (and so at present I have little to write you about my thoughts) and I find one of the places I have ended up in is the book of Ecclesiastes.
If you will allow me another oddity of expression, I will say I am finding it both very comforting, and also as if I am not getting from it everything I ought. Ecclesiastes is about life and death, and the questions therein, and I find myself both stilled by the reading and yet also trouble by the sense that I am not grasping the words as deeply as I ought. When days are good and the sky is sunny it is easy to read, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart” (Ecc. 7:2) and nod your head at how true and wise that statement is. It is another thing entirely to have just come from that “house of mourning” and read that statement. It reads more true, but it also reads like one needs to think more about what that means, and to consider that one does not understand what that means as well as one ought.
Many more such similar verses from Ecclesiastes I could write across the page, each one of them cutting to the heart of the matter. The writer of that book, he saw the burden of this life, and understood the questions that fill our hearts and minds at such times as these. He gave answers too–but there are the answers easily seen, and then more answers for those who listen a little longer.
For a moment I think I have it, like a flash of brilliance through the darkness. The burdens are weighing down, the thoughts and the feelings, and then in my mind’s eye I am back at the grave again, and everything is seen differently. There is a sudden lightness then and it seems almost as if I might laugh. For a moment the troubles and concerns of this life, and death, seem not so big and burdensome, but rather so small in the shortness of their time, which is not long now. And I can laugh because it is so short, so very short. What is death, when even death shall pass away?
Then everything snaps back, and I am here and now in the present, and a day seems long, much less a year or a lifetime, and the sorrow and death feel like an unbearable weight.
So I read through Ecclesiastes, with its talk about life and death, and I wish and pray that what I have seen I might understand better, and be a little wiser, and that somehow by grace I might not fail to grasp more firmly and clearly the true meaning of life and death, and life everlasting.