Thursday, October 19, 2017

maps do not know everything...

Yesterday was a complete surprise - a beloved community member passed from this life to life ever- lasting - and I was taken by surprise. Oh I knew it was coming. We've been in prayer together since February. I just didn't know it would arrive so soon. Only the day before I was kneeling at her bedside praying the "Hail Mary." A few minutes later, I was sitting close by her husband catching up on meals shared and next steps. Then the great mystery of life and faith broke in to reveal yet again that we are not in control. 

The shocking realities, the bewildering mysteries, the total surprises of this journey can become gifts if we're open to receiving them. For the dear one who has now gone home to the Lord, she is free from anguish and pain. St. Paul was adamant in his reminder that "we do not grieve as those without hope." Yes, we grieve. Yes, a death wounds the living. Yes, there is darkness and emptiness and regret. But for the departed, there is peace and light and love for eternity. We do not grieve as those without hope. And for those who remain on this side of life, even the surprises and shocks can become blessings that awaken us to the short uncertainty of our own existence.

The angel of death gradually became my ally over the decades. Sitting alone in the darkness of our sun room last night, I thought through the hundreds of funerals and memorial services I have celebrated as a few key departures rose to the surface with significance. Certainly my sister Linda's death rattled my cage and impelled me to change the direction of my life back in Cleveland. So, too, with Don Wooten's  passing a few years later. Those deaths impelled me to go inside my heart and ask: "what must change in order to live with more joy?" In time I was divorced and moved from the industrial heartland to the desert South West. In Tucson, the exceptionally "good" death of dear Dolores Brown not only gave me a chance to journey with a faithful soul as she readied herself for the end, but clarified for me that the end of that ministry had arrived. Without Dolores, one of the true saints in light, it was clearly time for me to move on. And now here in Massachusetts, this death - and that of Michael Daniels four years back - evokes an ending of sorts, too. But I also see a new beginning already as I journey into new worlds of music and compassion. (Indeed, I am doing some bass tutorials to get the hang of some reggae, man!)

There is nothing linear or rational about how the angel of death brings gifts of awakening to us. I simply know that if I am paying attention, a blessing is often revealed. This morning as I read a poem by Ruth Feldman, "Detour," this odd paradox of death and new life rang true one again.

I took a long time getting here,
much of it wasted on wrong turns,
back roads riddled by ruts.
I had adventures I never would have known
if I proceeded as the crow flies.
Super highways are so sure of where they are going:
they arrive too soon.

A straight line isn't always the shortest distance
between two people.
Sometimes I act as though I'm heading somewhere else
while, imperceptibly, I narrow the gap between you and me.
I'm not sure I'll ever know the right way,
but I don't mind getting lost now and then.
Maps don't know everything.

Maps, indeed, do not know everything.  So let me honor that and know that it is now time to take Lucie for a long, quiet romp in the woods.

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