How We Hold Out Best: A Rogue Homily on Fear

Theology / Thursday, October 8th, 2015

I used to count on death. This is what the depressed do. It’s the “suicide pill” the broken mind keeps in its darkest corner. That “out” looks almost like hope in this light. The resemblance is uncanny.

That kind of light casts the widest shadow so that even happy comfort words get met with a cynical, anxiety-ridden me.

The gift of cyclical depression is that one starts acknowledging feelings as temporary; this is a healing notion because it turned my stop into wait, and while I can’t always stop, I can almost always wait.

The downside of all downsides is that the happy-happy seems inauthentic and insufficient, so it doesn’t work like it used to. It just doesn’t stick.

I’ve traded my want of happy for a want of true.

True sticks around when happy can’t.

So the bumper sticker Christianity is lost on me. The prosperity gospel simply does not compute. I wish upon all my wishes that I’d see #grateful instead of #blessed. You don’t get to brag about the favor of the God upon your life just because you’re driving home in one of Lane Pratley’s brand-new, pre-owned Sonatas.

Don’t even wait. Just stop.

I do believe there is good news, even capital Good News: Death doesn’t win.

But I also know from experience that just because capital Death doesn’t win doesn’t mean lowercase death doesn’t happen.

It does, and it’s awful.

I say things casually to my husband often, like, “If I die, please delete all my selfies, burn my papers, and save my books. Make sure the kids know I love them. Tell the doctors it started with a slightly sore throat. My knee also kind of hurts. Please hire someone to clean before your mother comes over; you’ll be too wrecked with grief to do anything. If you have to move, stay in town until the little ones hit middle school; they’ll already be mad at you by then. I need to write all my passwords down for you. Ask Patrice to finish grading these essays; give her my D2L password.”

Without missing a beat, Jonathan responds, “You mean when you die. It’s not if.” He seems not at all concerned with the memoirs he’ll have to extensively edit. Not a worry in the world with that one.

Because he is precisely no comfort in this area (he has other gifts), I turn to scripture, which gives me less sass, to find even less help:

“…you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” –James 4:14 ESV

What kind of inspiration is that supposed to be exactly?

Give me unicorn Jesus. I want rainbows and airbrushed lions next to harp angels. Seriously? A mist!? That was your best shot? It’s a marvel James had any friends.

One of the best preachers I’ve known said something deep but simple about life that stuck with me: “No one is getting out of this alive,” which was, if you think about it, both incredibly depressing and incredibly true at the same time.

I loved how those words knocked the fear out of me for a moment. He made death sound ordinary, like it was the most normal thing we’d end up doing.

Again, not if but when.

Once you realize that something is certain and coming for you, even if slowly and maybe less menacingly than you once speculated, you begin to plan for the eventual.

If you can’t beat it, at least get ready for it.

Preparing for an eventual death, likely decades away, is not as easy as stocking up on batteries and bottled water. You can’t shop for life insurance. Well, you can, but not the kind I wanted, which was that, basically, I wouldn’t die ever—or at least until I was super, super old, like suspiciously, Death-Becomes-Her old and then it would be absolutely painless and instant—but I would have enough notice prior to it so that I could make sure the laundry was caught up, et cetera… et cetera meaning I’d delete my own selfies since Jonathan, again, so racked with grief, might be inclined to make wallpaper out of them for public posterity.

Also, the moment it happened, someone would erase everyone’s memory of me. This would be some cross between the short-term Men in Black flashy thing and the more calculated approach of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is the future, so I can be picky. I’m sure we will have gotten there by then.

The rest for my worry-weary mind came one night while sitting in my living room with a few dear mama-friends of mine. My mind wandered again toward death and what these lovelies of mine would do should my family ever be without me. I knew they’d do for me what I’d do for them:

We’d take care of each other’s others.

And that was it: YES! Our stories will all end one day, but they probably won’t end at the same time. We will die but not all at once, and even though it’s not happy-happy, it’s true, and that was enough to wash the worry from my ever-heavy heart.

We take turns. Always. In life, in death, we take turns. This solves it. It’s flying tandem. It’s circular breathing. It’s sharing the tank in an underwater emergency.

And even when it seems like we’re all on the same ship that’s going down, down, down, there’s peace in knowing we won’t be alone. Know that that’s enough, too, to sustain you, that that’s enough to make you wait even if you can’t stop.

We were born to take care of each other, to offer shelter, rest, and soup. We were born to hold hands, in life, in death, and in uncertainty, no matter the mess.

Take this lesson as a broken benediction. My friend Jen has a beautiful one-year-old son about whom she shared these words tonight:

“Tonight while cooking dinner, Owen runs in, puts his hand up, wanting me to hold his, but then he just stands there holding my hand. He closes his eyes and bows his head. Then he lets go and takes off back to the living room. One minute later he runs back in the kitchen and grabs my hand with his little sweet hand (my heart melts every time) and again closes his eyes and bows his head. I think, aww…is he praying? Then I realize that, no, he is not praying. He is preparing to go into the incinerator. That’s right, the boys turned on Toy Story 3 for him while I was cooking. It was the end of the movie and he was acting it out. It was one of the funniest, sweetest, saddest things ever.”

I replied to her, “Aww! He knows you’re his ICE.”

What a beautiful thing that instinct is, especially for a baby, to reach over, reach out, reach up.

And how much better to wait together when we cannot choose to stop, to occupy ourselves with one another at bedsides, on the sides of streets, and yes, even in the darkest corners of our mind.


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