I lay with my eyes closed in the darkness, awake.
The day before I carried the obvious truth like a hidden wound, acting as if I could live with it, as if anybody could. We had lunch with family in my sister’s restaurant, Farwood Bar & Grill. Unless you already knew the story, you could not have guessed. And I did enjoy our time together, because I realize more than ever that every moment with those we love is precious. But I am living a double life: living with gratitude while carrying this grief. Maybe life is never simple, but always double, triple, multiple. I walked around all day, thinking, “Four years ago today, this was the last day Rachel walked this earth. What was she doing at this moment four years ago? What was she thinking? What was I?” Blissfully ignorant. Thinking it would go on like this forever, or something approaching it. That there would always be more time…
I had a dream or a vision, what ever you would call it. Rachel pulled up to the curb in her Honda. Jill and I were out working in the yard. I put down whatever was in my hand and walked toward her with wonder. Jill too. Rachel jumped out of her car and ran across the yard to meet us, beaming, delighted, I think, to surprise us. She had been gone a long time, and we weren’t expecting her. There was this beautiful moment of joy before the realization that she was really dead and I was only dreaming...
It always feels like a betrayal to be able to go on living. Those who know better will say that is unhealthy thinking. It is, I know. I turned 50 on February 6. Jill and I spent the weekend in the Anderson Valley to celebrate our 24th anniversary. We took the long way home, touring the wine country just waking into spring, and stopped at a couple of unique places to eat we had seen on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. It was a beautiful weekend in every way. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was taking my leave, saying goodbye, likely never to pass this way again. I was painfully conscious that I was just passing through, that this strange and beautiful world...this life...doesn’t belong to me anymore, if it ever did. Though we mostly don’t behave like guests, but rather like we own the place and are trying our best to use it up, the truth is that we are only visiting here. But I suspect it is a dangerous mistake to let that keep us from forming attachments…
So, my birthday, February 6, was a Monday. We were stepping back into our routine after our extraordinary weekend. I wanted to be big about it, so I got out of bed as usual, made the coffee while Jill took her shower, and then sat in bed to read to her from the Daily Bible. As I read, a horrible awareness crept upon me: This was the passage we had read the morning Rachel was killed. I tried to read as if nothing was wrong, like I didn’t notice, but Jill stopped me to confirm the realization that was dawning on her, too. It was 5:00 a.m. and, after that, my day was already over...
Of course, I wonder about such coincidence. The day before, while driving through the wine country, different renditions of Amazing Grace had played back-to-back on the iPhone we were playing on shuffle through the car stereo. I asked Jill if she thought my smart phone was smart enough to know it was Sunday. Or maybe it was a sign?
We are haunted by the presentiment that maybe there is more to this life than the surface suggests. And tortured by the misgiving that maybe there isn’t.
The passage from Proverbs for that same day says, “The Lord directs a person’s steps. Why should we fret to understand every step along the way?” It’s true, I don’t know where I am going, so it is impossible for me to judge whether I am taking one true step in the right direction. Wiser souls would counsel me to let it go and simply let it be what it is. I’m not there yet.
Jill and I are reading Joan Chittister’s spiritual memoir, “Called to Question.” I am surely contorting the passage to fit my own interpretation, but she says, “Life is not about getting God. Life is about growing in God.” Presumably, we are all always in God, because there is no outside. She goes on to say, “We ripen. We learn. We hurt. We survive one thing after another. And we go on...in the end, we gain what we came to get...One way or another life batters us until we get the unavoidable. Sometimes we get it with glory; sometimes we get it in disgrace…” The God who is life inexorably teaches us. We learn what we need to know. We are not our own. We do not know who or what we are to become. We simply trust the process, and the God of life whom we can only hope controls it.
What kind of terrible faith is this?
The morning I woke up to that passage, I took it as a cruel cosmic joke.
That is the human problem, older than Job, with which those who suffer struggle: Is the God who guides the process loving, indifferent, or malevolent? Does God torture us for amusement? What are we to make of this mess?
The problem with my interpretation of events is that it flies in the face of the message of the passage. It is the passage in Ezra that affirms, “God is good. His faithful love endures forever.”
In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, does love really guide the universe?
I have come to the conclusion that I over-reacted. I don’t blame myself. One emotional law I have learned is that in the absence of convincing proof to the contrary (and, really, what is proof?), the most loving explanation is correct. I guess you could call it the benefit of the doubt theorem...or the benefit of faith. If God really is good, as I have heard and still, tremulously, believe, and really does love me with a love that endures forever and transcends time and circumstance, then it is just possible that reading that passage on my 50th birthday was God’s way of telling me I am loved - in spite of everything.
As Theodore Roethke said, “I learn by going where I have to go.”
This morning, February 21, 2012, I awoke and kept my eyes closed in the darkness. When I finally opened them and looked at the clock it was 3:31 a.m. One minute after Rachel was pronounced dead four years ago. The beginning of the rest of my life…
“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.”
Theodore Roethke - “The Waking”