There are countless hard things in life. Death and burial, divorce and betrayal, moving out and moving on, are just a few that come to my mind. Anything that happens to us or near us, that forces us to say goodbye, can be difficult. In these challenging moments, let’s face it, we want to disappear and run away. We don’t want to face the others that will show up with unpredictable emotions, we don’t want to encounter the frightening feelings in ourselves that will accompany those events. We want to avoid the uncomfortable, we want to hide, like Adam and eve, from those things in life that we have branded, ruthless. We want to flee whatever reminds us that we are flawed and mortal. We say, death is bad, moving is hard, change is unbearable, sickness is ugly, and war is painful.
We have judged these things and maybe we have judged correctly, but maybe, we have judged indiscriminately. Pain is bad, we learned this the first time we touched a hot stove , the first hunger that pinched our little belly, But the stove isn’t bad, the internal alarm that warns ‘it’s time to eat’, that is not a curse, and children are a gift.
My grandmother passed away last weekend. She was my great-step grandmother and she was 103 years old. Louisa and I were not close and I didn’t cry at the funeral. Death at 103, after all isn’t terribly sad, besides, she had completed the course. She finished the race, she graduated. She accomplished a full life, and she got her money’s worth of time.
While I was sitting in church staring at her long, wooden casket, trying to process life, I realized; death brings people together. My family was there, a family I rarely see, a part of me I don’t get to experience often enough. We come together for weddings and funerals these days. I was struck that, a funeral is a man’s last gift to those he leaves behind, at least hers was. As loved ones gather to mourn, to say goodbye, and to have one final glimpse of the finite, another thing happens, in the course of saying goodbye they say, “Hello, and ‘how are you?’, and, ‘you look great’ and lets catch up.” People hug and cry together and let you in. They laugh about something silly and dwell in a unique moment of time that can become yet, another anchor to light and truth. In the aftermath of cutting some ties, you strengthen others, making connections and attachments that had been lost or forgotten. While letting go of one , you hold on tighter to another, someone still here. That’s a parting gift from the departed. And suddenly I saw death as a step, not a finality, but a part of the cycle of living and life. It’s one of the ways and times when we are able to unite with each other. It’s an event, an occasion, an experience for those left behind.
My sister and her ex-husband have just accepted an offer on their house. I can’t imagine the sorrow she is feeling. For 17 years they have toiled over that house. They have raised their children there, they have built it up, loved, hated, grown together and lived apart, in that house. It must be like a death, like saying goodbye to the past, burying the happy memories, all the life that happened there, and all the hard work they created and conquered. They are walking away from all the love they once knew and felt, it will be sealed behind doors, they will no longer have keys to. I thought, how can I possibly help her through this difficult time? Perhaps I can help her pack and move, be with her, sit with her on the naked floor, listen among boxes and brooms with bare walls as our witnesses. Perhaps, in the transition out, we can make some new memories, perhaps we can find each other, even in the sad event of leaving all the moments we spent in that house side by side. If we do that, then it will become an experience, an occasion, not a consummation, not a final resting place, but just a resting place.
It’s like an exhale, it doesn’t have to be the end, it can be a part, a piece. A step closer and deeper to someone you were made to be. What is really lasting is not the house anyhow, not the body or the marriage, or the job, or the school. Whatever it is that we are saying goodbye to, is only the shell, the seed coating, it’s what’s inside that we take with us, the relationship that grows, the lingering words, and the heartfelt memories. God has set eternity in our hearts, in man’s heart. And its man’s heart that can be changed and grow and live eternally.
Everything that happens can be an opportunity to connect and grow. A seed coating has the important purpose of protecting the contents of the seed. It will remain dormant until an opportune time. Perhaps things in our lives, stay the same until they are ready to break out, break forth and change. And then they do, they burst forth in a new existing way, the shell falls off and dissolves back into the earth. But All the ingredients inside are released like a gift that just happen to engage and mingle and interact in a way that brings up newness of life.
Those moments, when we say goodbye to someone or something we love, gives us a rare chance to grow in ways that only come so often. The way we connect at a funeral or moving someone or at a custody hearing, or a divorce, these are rare monumental intervals, when we have a chance to know someone deeper, know ourselves better and strengthen those bonds which day to day life has a way of wearing out and down.
Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died. It’s important to grieve, cry and scream when we have to. But the sweetness of what remains, is life, breathe, and vigor when the tears have dried. We find each other at the funeral or in the empty house or at the cemetery. We recognize life as an ongoing story, but perhaps taking a new direction and in some mysterious way we use that knowledge, we must, to spring into the future. So don’t hide or run away, face it, but don’t face it alone. There is opportunity inside every hard shell that is cast off and a gift that if used well, brings newness of life.