Friday, June 21, 2013

No Light, No Tunnel, No End

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I linger in the blackness, seemingly invisible to passersby. My night is cold and lonely, devoid of the warmth of human touch. There is only God, and though He speaks, I do not hear from Him what I desperately want to hear. He begs me to trust His will, but that will lies heavily upon me, like a shroud. His will is solitary. His will is hard. He bids me to be patient, but the fruitless, empty, years pass me by, heaping their rewards on others.

Shared laughter mocks me, as groups of two, three, and four, walk by. Their eyes seem to meet mine, but then slide past unseeing. I follow them, heading toward the open doors ahead that they are passing through. I long to cry out after them: Look at me. See me. Hear me. I don't. They are busy with better, more productive, things. I bless the Lord for all their successes even as I envy them those blessings. Like a swift running current, they flow past my stagnant pool. It seems pointless to call out to them. Even if they saw and heard, there is nothing they can do. My path is beyond their reach. Only God can change the unchangeable.

My present darkness is His will, so I cannot pass through the doors that are open for others. At least I can press up against the windows and watch. The room they have entered is ablaze with light and resounds with music. It is crowded with people, laughing and chatting, making contact, sharing information, planting the seeds of ideas; a mutual admiration society. My aloneness deepens.

I should walk away. Why punish myself by remaining so close, but never close enough? Like the starving child with nose and palms pressed against the bakery window, I still need the crumbs that occasionally are tossed my way, even though they create in me a greater awareness of my deep hunger. So I linger.

How long, O Lord?

God says wait. He is carefully putting all the pieces of my life together. This solitary, shadowy corner is coming together just as He planned. Patience is not my strongest character trait. Sometimes, during the darkest moments of my night, I rail against Him and weep bitter tears. As quickly, I repent of the failure of my frail faith. Trust is, at times, an Everest that defies my best efforts to reach its summit. I know He makes no mistakes. I understand He has reasons and good ones for leaving me here. Like Job, I present my case and cry out for God to explain His.

Chattering voices and the chinking of glasses reach my ears. Toasts are being offered in celebration. A persistent voice whispers: And who celebrates for you? I push the thought away. I know it will return the next time some small victory comes my way and there is no one to share my happiness.

I shiver. There it is again, that subtle rejection of God's will and presence. How often I have prayed that He would take away this desire for what isn't part of His plan for me. He neither takes me from this darkness, nor does He remove my desire to be taken from it. That too is part of the plan.

I am ashamed. I turn back from the lighted window and look out into the darkness. As the Spirit of God adjusts my spiritual night vision, I weep again. The music from inside the room fades, replaced by the hoot of a nearby owl, the chirp of crickets, and the soft rustle of wind through barely visible trees. The air is heavy with the fragrance of lilac and gardenia. A million stars gleam overhead. I missed them in the glare of the light streaming from the windows. There is such beauty in the darkness. My shroud, whose folds hide the arms of God, embraces me. He is always good, and never as good as He is right now. I weep over my sins. Not content with the bounty of my night, I wanted more, even when He has given me so much. Thoughtless and unappreciative, I threw it back at Him.

Someone once said: "Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light." Not one promise He has made me has failed. Though they don't disappear, the voices are muted, overtaken by the sounds of the night. The grass stirs at my feet. God walks here in the dark.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Two Minutes Before Dawn

We all knew it was only a matter of time before night fell. The signs were unmistakable.
“His arteries are like lead pipes,” said the doctor. I had never seen the inside of a well-used lead pipe, so I could only imagine.

Everyone slows down with age, but the first time I noticed life was taking an irrevocable twist was when I caught him staring at me as though I were a perfect stranger.

Who are you, and what are you doing in my living room? He didn’t say it, but I could read it in his eyes, distant and puzzled.

In the beginning, the changes were subtle, causing concern but not panic. Later those changes would become more marked, sometimes frightening. Moments of madness when hours twisted. Morning became night. Night turned into afternoon. Anger and aggression kindled in his eyes. Some other person had taken possession of a man once irritatingly mild and meek. He would not have recognized himself, known himself. He would not have liked what he saw. I was glad he didn’t know.

In the early days and later, in those moments when dad returned to visit himself, he appreciated the humour of the situation. One afternoon he came home from his walk with his face all battered and bruised.

“What happened to you?” is a silly question to ask a man who doesn’t remember those seconds when the mind turns off. We asked anyway, to which he replied with the classic: “You should see the other guy!” He didn’t always collapse from those mini-strokes. Usually he’d simply stand there, a blank look on his face as though he were far, far, away. Perhaps he was.

One Sunday, still dressed in his Sunday best, dad left the dinner table to go to the bathroom. He hadn’t been there long when we heard a loud thump and crash. I jumped up and ran. Dad was sitting sideways, rear in the bathtub, head resting against the wall, and feet waving in the air. He was laughing uproariously. He’d missed every sharp and potentially damaging object in our small bathroom—certainly a miracle in anyone’s book.

Public Health sent nurses in regularly to check on seniors still living alone in their own homes. I was visiting on one such occasion when the nurse came in to check blood pressures and to cut dad’s toenails. It was summer. The light was much better in the porch so they went out there. I followed. Something clicked in dad’s mind as the nurse worked on those yellowed, thickened, nails. He turned to me and smiled that impish smile that was a characteristic precursor to some quip.

“I’m tough,” he said proudly.

Yes you are, dad, I thought.

When he was growing up, everyone had to be tough. He’d had to leave school before finishing the eighth grade to help out on the family farm. He’d worked in an asbestos mine, fixed cars, and looked after his now growing family on the meager income of a unlicensed mechanic. There were no extras. We wore hand-me-downs, and didn’t have a car until dad managed to pick a cheap one up at a police auction—one he drove for the next twenty years. He loved us in his own quiet way, provided for us, disciplined us when we needed it, and was a faithful husband. For a man who had worked all his life, retirement was punishment. He soon returned to work, pumping gas in freezing cold weather until he was seventy-five years old.

However, it was back to his roots that dad returned during his last years. When it was no longer possible to look after him at home, he went to live in a nursing home. By then the lights of his mind were very dim, like the kerosene lamps of his childhood.

I found him fingering the hospital bracelet that he carried on his wrist.

“What’s that, Dad?” I asked.

He looked up with that same quirky smile that time never seemed to fade.

“Pa made it for me,” he said, fondness and pride lifting his voice. He was back on the homestead, surrounded by brothers and sister, mom and dad, rather than doctors, nurses, and strangers. He smelled freshly cut hay, not the odor of disinfectant and stale age. His mind was free even though it was confined to another time and another place.

It was twilight, the grayness before the night, and only two moments before eternal dawn.