Saturday, February 11, 2017

We Now Return You To Your Regularly Scheduled Life

Some days I feel like my emergency broadcasting system has been activated, tested, tried, and now...what?

I wish I could explain what it feels like to prepare for death, and then just go back to daily living like it was no big deal. It's certainly not a scenario I have any kind of a monopoly on...there are many others who have faced serious illness, wars, and traumatic events that brought them to the moment(s) of facing their own mortality, and then, when those moments had passed, back they every day living.  

Several friends have asked when I was going to write a post surgical update- but until now, I couldn't find the wherewithal to write. I had to go through the first part of the healing process and learn the lessons. 

On The Unexpected: I've been to two funerals in the last few weeks. The first, for an acquaintance, a couple years older than me...who was a cherished husband, and father to two little girls. He was an avid coffee aficionado, and a man deeply beloved in my community as a kind and generous philanthropist. He was constantly working to remember and care for the least among us, and encouraged each of us to do the same. 

The second funeral was for the 3 year old son of one of my best friends. I sat in the hospital room in the predawn of the morning...her recently deceased son lying between us on the hospital bed. We stroked his hair, and marveled at his beautiful, peaceful little body. His mother held him, sending him home to God, amidst ample tears and kisses. The following week, still in somewhat of a daze, the Church was packed full of many loved ones, and his funeral Mass was beautiful.  

This little boy had a terrible start in life, the victim of horrific and incapacitating child abuse at the hands of his biological parents. My girlfriend and her husband adopted him from the foster care system. They wrapped him in constant support and care, everyday, in their large and bustling family. As he came to the end of his brief earthly life, that little soul was cradled and rocked in his mother's loving embrace, as he passed into eternal life. I don't know that I have ever experienced a greater intimacy than being present in that sacred space with a parent who has just lost their child. My girlfriend and I speak very candidly and uncensored about many things (read: pretty much everything).  We mused that her son's resting place, and my future den of earthly repose will join us together with yet another thread of connection. Her son was cremated and interred at the same columbarium where my remains will one day be placed. We joked (but were simultaneously quite serious) about how comforting it was to think that we would be there side by side. He in his carved burled wood urn, and I in my butterfly one. A twofer stop for a prayerful visit...nestled in a garden cloister adjacent to the Church.  

These two deaths reinforced for me, the very strange mystery of the time we are given here on Earth...and that there are many questions we will never have answers to this side of heaven...why do some get to live long lives into old age, while others die so much earlier? How can we make sense of the problems of suffering and evil? Why does {when} death comes seem so deeply unfair, with no discernible rhyme or reason as to who will be chosen for its embrace?

To mentally and emotionally wade through the agonizing pain and excruciating loss that exists in this world can seem to be both nonsensical and emotionally paralyzing. Keeping despair at bay may become a daily challenge. It might strike with morbid wonder what the purpose the life of a small abused child who would die at such an early juncture? What benevolent God allows such suffering? What God creates an innocent child who will know so much pain? Wouldn't it have been better that he had not been born? It is tempting to pridefully rise up in personal comparison to God. To think (as many of us have done, if we are honest)...if we were to be found at the helm of steering all of Creation, we would never allow a child to suffer, as so many do the world over. We would never allow many of the evils that plague our world. We would have done it differently, we would have done a better job at "being God."  It can be easy to fall into the pride of believing ourselves to be wiser than the Creator. With angered broken hearts, we can begin to believe that we would make better choices. If we presume God to be indifferent to the cries and groaning of humanity, eyes turned away from all of us below, then we can fall into the sad state of deeming God unworthy of our worship and devotion. 

When I was younger, I worked in the field of child protection, and my girlfriend, mentioned in this story, still does. We each carry an indelible mark on our souls and psyches at having seen the darkness, and the abyss of evil that exists in the destruction of innocence.  I've had to wrestle with some of the above questions I mentioned, and I still do wrestle through the night, like Jacob and the angel, with a few of the confusing ones from time to time.

I've made as much peace with the lack of satisfactory answers (and with God) as possible, by acknowledging and truly believing a few things: A. free will must exist in order for authentic love to exist. Each human had to be given free will. It is the misuse of this free will (that we each possess) which creates many of the problems, evils, sins, and suffering in the world. The flip side of this, is that we can each (like my girlfriend and her husband) use our free will for all that is good, virtuous, healing, and holy. 

B. I am NOT, in fact, in any way or by any means, smarter, wiser, or a better planner of how the universe should unfold than God is. There was a point at which I had to decide that if I believed my faith was really truth, I had to surrender to mystery. To be able to say (and to mean) to God, "I can't understand your plan God, I don't know why 'xyz' is happening. It makes absolutely no sense to me, I don't know why you allow this, but "Thy will be done." Choosing to accept that I just have to live without a complete/acceptable answer to my burning questions this side of heaven, has been oddly peaceful.  

C. I can only seek to assure you of the one part I am absolutely sure of...the lesson of this little boy's life (and each one of our lives) is about love. I fully trust my senses as they have taken in the experiences of watching many loving parents look upon their children with joy, delight, and deep unconditional love. It is not merely an evolutionary accidental that such a capacity exists within us. My nephew and nieces come to mind...and I think of how I love them with a depth of love I never knew existed in myself until they were born. The capacity for that intensely magnificent pure emotion, duty, dedication, determination, and will their good above my own is God given. If it is God given within our souls, it must first exist within God, God must have those delights and joys for each one of us. If that is the case, then I can never be correct in believing God to be indifferent, disinterested, or deeply cruel in His allowance of suffering. It is overly simplistic to lay out these thoughts late at night, in a mish mash way that cannot stand up to exacting rigors of theological and philosophical scrutiny. There is no truth I need to reinvent within my faith; and my theological, intellectual, and spiritual answers come in understanding the person of Jesus Christ. I have 2,000 years of ancestors who asked many of the same questions, and there are catechetical responses and explanations to all that has been posed.

But I mean something different by what I write here...acceptance? It took years to form and solidify the tools I have: to believe in, by my own discernment, firmly for myself...that my lingering questions about the allowance of the horrors I have seen in real life, and through the news around the globe, will (in many respects) remain unanswered mystery. I will not master the understanding or the scope of God's design, in this Earthly life. But, I will (and do) trust God's love as truth, and want to remain within it.


I imagine and believe it all does make sense...the macro design. At present, all we can see is the underside of a large quilt-the scraggly edges, wayward matted, tangled threads, knots, and the mashed together pieces that don't line up. We have an eternal promise that one day all the tears and pain will be washed away. For the virtues of hope and faith do not exist in Heaven. They are unnecessary because they will have been fulfilled. Of the three theological virtues, only charity will remain. After our deaths, when that divine promise is fulfilled, we may finally be able to turn the quilt over to gaze upon it, in its entirety, of swirling colors, shapes, patterns, and beauty. Then, at long last, we will finally understand that which we were incapable of comprehending (while only viewing the under side of the quilt, from our Earthly lives below). The mystery will finally be solved, and in peace, we will fully admire and appreciate the grand design of God's plan. Which, was love all along. 

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