Only the most skilled
Clamp on their ice-spikes and
Venture to the inaccessible heights of
The Himalayans, but even they are
Unaware that far beneath the ice and
Snow on which they climb lie
Granite fissures that slowly sip the
Pure snow being gently warmed by
Molten fires miles below.
Just a trickle of pristine water,
Clearer than the clearest crystal,
Finds it’s kind deep inside the
Towering peaks and forms a
Rivulet that bubbles to the
Surface thousands of feet
Below the crest to form a
Perfect untainted mountain spring.
Millions of years, glaciers, snows, rains, and winds
Carved the crevice that separates the
Singular spring into two.
One falls violently. The other with grace.
One becomes angry as it absorbs
Man’s pollutants from soil and air.
It fights and rages against the
Injustice, ripping trees and boulders,
Stirring sands, campsites, and trash
Until the dam.
But it is not placid, nor will it surrender
To the dullness of the choking reservoir.
The bitterness stirs deep within until,
Aided by torrential rains sent by
Furious gods, it rips and explodes the
Concrete wall and ferociously takes
Revenge on downstream towns
Inhabited by the species that
Polluted its ancestors.
It is at war.
High above, its sister took a different path.
Unobtrusive, it winds its unsullied water
Along gentle paths dotted with
Kindly sprays of quiet falls
Through alpine flowers where
Fawns and lambs quench their
Thirst, bulbul and monal dance,
Home to mahseer, baby rabbits,
Red panda, tahr, snow leopard and
Snow partridge. Warmed by thermal
Features below and summer sun above,
It softly cascades into a transparent
Pool where naked lovers play.
When a loved one dies, we grieve. Grief is natural. Grief is human. The Apostle Paul wished that we would not grieve as those with no hope, by which he meant that our grief is not hopeless grief. It is not a despair with no bottom, a pit of infinite darkness, although it feels like that for many weeks. Ours is a grief with hope built in. We nonjudgmentally entrust the departed into the care of a loving God. We hope to see them again.
We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. Greif is natural. Paul never meant to suggest that we not grieve. Our bodies and minds instinctively know how to grieve, just as our digestive systems know how to expel spoiled food. Vomiting is not pleasant, but it purges and cleanses. The ripping sorrow of grief is even more unpleasant, and much longer lasting, but it too purges the psychic system.
The best gift we can give the bereaved is presence. Simply be. Listen. Hold if appropriate. We must never try and stem the flood of grief or seek to cover it with medications, alcohol, or religious platitudes.
On the cross, Jesus rescued the universe. Israel of old was enslaved in Egypt through no fault of their own; their descendants were enslaved by Babylon precisely because of their sin. In both instances, a rescue operation was in order. All of creation is groaning, anticipating, longing, yearning, agonizing for freedom, release, manumission. Some of creation lies enslaved due to sin. The rest is just enslaved. The entire cosmos is under the heavy whip of the satanic overseer.
It matters not whose fault the enslavement is. What matters is release, rescue, liberation. The chains were broken on Good Friday. A new kingdom – the Kingdom of God was launched. God invites us to participate in making all things new.
The concept of religion, as we now understand the word, is an 18th century philosophic idea that relates to a system of beliefs coupled with a moral code that collectively promise a pleasant eternal future for adherents. Christianity has since then become a religion, but was originally simply a group of diverse people following Jesus.
One cannot legitimately separate belief in Jesus from following Jesus. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Were we gathered at a post-pandemic dinner party with 60 other guests in a prominent home only to smell smoke and realize the house was on fire, it would behoove us to follow the one who knows the way to safety. To sit on the sofa professing an intellectual belief that the owner does indeed know the best route of escape, yet not follow her, would be foolish. To really believe is to follow.
Following Jesus, at least for the first three centuries, meant living out what Jesus taught. It meant accepting that Jesus is the Creator God, the Jewish Messiah, the King of the universe, the embodiment of YHWH, and, as a result of that acceptance, doing what he said to do. Things like turning the other cheek, living a simple generous life, going the second mile, taking the role of a servant, loving one’s enemies, forgiving those who offend, preferring others over self, forever laying down the sword, refusing to participate in killing of any sort, caring for creation with all its creatures, and caring for the incarcerated, homeless, bereaved, abused, and ill come to mind.
I wept with joy, my heart overflowing with praises to God as I drove back to my apartment fifty years ago today.
I had been waiting alone at Johns Hopkins Hospital for hours. At long last, a physician escorted me to the nursery where I stood outside the glass as a nurse held up a bright red nine-pound screaming newborn infant.
My baby. My firstborn. My son. A more precious gift from God than anything I could imagine.
I was twenty years old.
Free-flowing praise continued nonstop. I visited all day every day. At last mother and baby were home. (In those days, a cesarean section meant a week in the hospital for the mother and no fathers in the operating room.)
He had long black hair and long eyelashes. No matter how he was dressed, everyone assumed him to be a pretty little girl.
Elliott was precocious from the start. He walked, no, he ran, at 9-months. Climbing on tables, emptying cupboards, smearing shortening all over the kitchen and himself, hanging by his fingers from the fish tank. When his sister joined him 14 months later, he’d climb out of his crib, walk across the window sill and jump into hers. By the time he was four, he had already taught himself to read with thorough comprehension. At eight, he reassembled a shattered watch into working order. Schools had no idea what to do with him. There were no gifted and talented programs at the time. He skipped grades, took Latin at a girls’ Catholic high school, learned calligraphy, wrote poetry, and screamed through all pre-calculus mathematics by the time he was ten.
If his classmates knew he was younger, they didn’t seem to notice. He had a ton of friends, played ice hockey, road his bicycle all over town, skillfully navigated double black diamond ski slopes on his first outing, free-climbed massive rock formations, joined the German club, gobbled up foreign languages, and dove into every aspect of science. He learned to sail and canoed the back creeks and rivers.
When we moved, he quickly adjusted to a new school. He had male and female friends, including a romantic relationship. He was on the varsity wrestling team. Of course, he got straight A’s.
Perhaps he was bored. Perhaps he lived in a fantasy world. He was certainly impulsive when, without warning, he killed himself.
He was not quite 15, a junior in high school.
It was my 35th birthday.
Had he lived, what would he be like at age 50? He had the potential to be anything. Perhaps he would have been a medical engineer, or a research physician, or a physics professor. Maybe first he would have been an Olympic skier. Would he have married? Had children? I wonder how many and what they’d be like. Would he live near his parents or in another country?
The tragedy of every death is the gap left in humanity. Humankind would be better off if Elliott had lived. That is the case with every young death – Tamir Rice, Adam Toledo, every child murdered, every child who dies by suicide, every child cut down by cancer, or drowned trying to reach freedom. However they die, their deaths are tragic.
And we are all the poorer.
Those of us who are bereaved parents are in a club we never wanted to join. We alone know the lasting pain that never leaves us. Our tears, like a spring snow, bring life.
If God gave me a choice between having Elliott for 15 years followed by 35 years of heartbreak, or not having him at all, I would without hesitation choose Elliott with the pain. His short life enriched mine in ineffable ways and drove me deeper into the only ultimate source of comfort, the Author of Life.
I see them coming again
Her in her ankle-length
Black organza gown,
Her face and head covered by a
Long black Spanish veil;
Him in his formal black suit,
Top-hat, tails, cane, gloves
They have knocked at my door many times.
I run and hide, not wanting their company
Fearing their presence
Today, however, I welcome you!
Madam Sorrow and Sir Heartache
Fling wide the door
Come in! Come in! I embrace you
Both for the gifts you are
Together we weep and remember
In each other’s arms we settle
Deeply into the Sorrowful Passion
Where Ultimate Love blooms