Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Infinite Sadness

It was an afternoon like any other, killing time at my family's store by turning anything I could get my hands on into some kind of toy. Grandpa hadn't yet come back after his daily afternoon nap and Grandma asked if I wanted to go home with her to check on him. Go to Grandma's house? She didn't have to ask me twice. Walking up the steps, I unlocked the door helping my grandma with arms full of groceries. I opened the door and stepped aside to let her in. The groceries dropped and my grandma rushed me back down the steps. But I still saw. My grandfather lay lifeless on the kitchen floor.

I was babysat by friends of the family for what seemed like hours (we were watching a PBS documentary on bats; not exactly my idea of a good time) which gave me ample time to reflect on life, death, and the afterlife. At nine years old, it was somewhat comprehensible. I understood heaven, kinda understood hell, and didn't for the life of me understand purgatory (and still don't). I rationalized the eternal consequence of what just happened, but did not feel anything about what that meant for those of us still living in this life. Perplexed, with wheels always turning, I wondered what this life really meant.

I thought a lot about it, but didn't feel anything. At least not until a few days later, when after the funeral I found my sister engulfed in tears sitting at a typewriter at our grandparent's house. On the page were written all of her feelings; a last goodbye from his little princess. Then, and only then, was I able to understand sadness.

As the years passed, I suffered more loss. My favorite uncle passed away while I was in the eighth grade, countless friends of the family passed away over the years, and I lost my father right as my junior year in college began. Because of this, I thought I understood death and understood sadness.

When I became a disciple of Jesus four years after my father died, eternal life took on more significant a meaning than paintings of angels sitting on clouds in heaven. "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55) So when I next faced death,I thought my faith was mature enough to handle it. Or so I thought, I still didn't know how to feel. My wife lost her foster mom, whom she loved dearly despite only living with her for two years. I didn't know what to say, I didn't know how to help, I was paralyzed by this unfamiliar feeling-sadness. Sure I was sad when my dad passed away, but I drowned that out. I had nowhere to run from these feelings. There was no bottle to crawl into. And so I cried. Right around the same time I watched Big Fish and could not stop crying. For hours. This new feeling opened up a wellspring that I has not yet run dry. I now cry at just about anything, most notoriously while watching Finding Nemo.

Now Glynn Young reminded me that "Jesus wept" (John 11:35), and that it's ok for men to cry. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. I don't like this feeling and so I avoid it as much as I can.

I was avoiding it a couple of weeks ago while my wife's grandmother suffered a stroke at 102 years of age. Following the stroke, she couldn't talk, which meant she couldn't eat. If she couldn't eat, that meant she was going to die. She had a living will which stated she didn't want any kind of support, including a feeding tube. So we prepared for the inevitable. She was sharp as a knife in her mind, but she couldn't communicate. We had to assume she was preparing for the inevitable as well. Watching her, still in her bed biding time, I was consumed with sadness. I wasn't sad about the inevitable loss of her life, she was 102 after all. But I could not help but to think about what must have been going through her mind. She knew she was about to die and couldn't do a thing about it. Again, that sadness paralyzed me.

Recently, my wife and I watched the Time Traveler's Wife. Again, I felt this "melancholy and infinite sadness" as I related to Eric Bana's character towards the end. (kinda spoiler alert if you haven't seen it) Because he could travel through time, he knew when he was going to die. How would he have felt? What was he thinking? I was just as torn watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (another spoiler if you haven't seen it) Here, Brad Pitt's character had "aged" to infancy with a completely mature mind to comprehend what was happening. The waterworks started flowing as this baby gripped the love of his life's finger as he passed away.

I don't like death. As a Christian, I should embrace it, glory in Christ's resurrection. But I don't. I cannot get over the sadness that comes with it. I can't help but think about the inevitable end to our mortality and the loved ones left behind. To be honest, I don't want to die. In high school, an exercise in my psychology class asked each of us to list one thing we were afraid of. My answer was death. Twenty years later, I wouldn't change that answer.

Jesus presents quite the paradox. Facing the knowledge of his own death, he wept in the Garden. He struggled with it so much, he escaped to pray about it three times. Yet he surrendered to his Father's will and willingly marched towards the Cross. Just a short time before, the brother of a couple of his best friends died and there we read the shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept." Why? He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he knew the lifeless body before him was not going to remain that way. Was he moved by compassion towards his friends? Was he gripped with the knowledge of his own death? While he could discern what was in the hearts of his disciples and foresaw Judas' betrayal, could it be that he didn't know how his own story was going to play out? Surely he knew death held no power. He saw the glories of heaven first-hand and witnessed the countless number of lives who waited in "Abraham's bosom". Yet he still cried.

While I don't understand it, I'm going to take Jesus' example as permission to feel sadness with respect to death. Yes, I believe in the resurrection. Yes, I believe we should rejoice when a loved one gets to enter into God's heavenly Kingdom. But I will still feel sadness. I will still cry. So the next time you see me at a movie bawling my eyes out, don't be surprised.

1 comment:

JC Dude said...

Such a deep emotional post...thanks for sharing bro'


“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
—1 Corinthians 15:54