It was September 15th, 1985. I leaned over to kiss the forehead of my father in his final hours about to succumb to cancer. Then, I walked away, never to speak to him again. He died that evening and we never said what needed to be said between us. Our lives remain a mystery to each other. I’ve lived with that since that day.
It was a Sunday afternoon, 1986. My fiancee, Vanessa, and I were in crisis. We were about to mail out wedding invitations the following day. Not only did we not mail them out but we ended the relationship rather unceremoniously. She was living with a coworker by the end of that very week. She died of cancer in 1992. I never discovered answers for any of it…to this very day.
Winter, 2007. I had only begun a few months earlier a brand new ministry in a new town in a new State. I was feeling a little lost and needing guidance. My spiritual director, Jeff (pseudonym), had been a lifeline for me as he walked with me through the choppy waters of change and emotional dislocation. One day, I called him. No answer. I emailed. No response. I texted. Still, nothing. I dropped by his office. There was no sign of him. I even resorted to a handwritten letter I mailed to his church office. Nada. This went on for over three months. There is nothing quite like the feeling of being ditched by someone’s spiritual director…with no explanation…ever. Now, six years later, I still have heard nothing and remain uncertain for the reasons why…to this very day.
Many of us watch from the comfort of our armchair, remote firmly in hand, the horror and tragedy unfolding in Syria. We wag our heads and harumph in quiet disapproval. We discuss it with assumed knowledge of the whole picture from our limited television encounters or at the local coffee shop. We ‘like’ our favorite page of outrage on Facebook with a sense that, in some small way, we’ve done our part toward a better society. And still the dead, dismembered and bloated bodies of somebody’s son, mother or friend float down the river like useless flotsam and jetsam, blanched and featureless like the conflagration which steals them from the world.
The shameful charade of Syrian aggression has left me reeling in many ways. Who knows what interpersonal blockages had been left unhealed? What foul words flippantly spoken, now never to unsay? How many raised voices in anger never to be undone? And the pain of losing someone is exacerbated by the knowledge that such matters were left unresolved. I think of my own family, my friends, my colleagues. What assurances do we have that such sudden losses will leave the needs-to-be-said as unsaid? Are we blindly tripping along in flagrant over-confidence that we’ll simply last forever while not addressing what painfully lingers?
In times such as these, more than anything else take hold of those around you. Love them. Tell them so. Be close to them. Hold your children to your breast and feel their breath. Smell their hair. Feel their skin.
The following prayer was originally posted on my other blog: www.robslitbits.com.
Help me to forgive you, God
Lord, they did not ask for dusty feet
sandaled and sore
to walk over the flesh and bones
of neighbors and friends,
of brothers, sisters and parents.
They didn’t ask to be brought before
someone else’s tribunal on imagined
charges of being what they should not be,
what you created them to be.
They did not seek out this desperation
that found them huddled, fearful and crying.
To see the bloated bodies of fellow pilgrims
floating down the river, under bridges,
stuck and floating on rocks jutting out
and shaking bony fists at you for justice,
is to see a God too small to save.
Or am I missing something, Lord?
I am not smart enough to know
the fancy talk at long, important tables
where cigar-smoking men carve up
the world with a glance and a handshake.
I am not wise enough to understand
how to discern what most is needed.
I am not strong enough not to hate,
nor still enough not to stir up
my anger, my outrage.
Lord, if I am forced to sit and watch
what looks like the refuse of hate-filled politics
paraded before a God with weak arms,
and no stomach to move into the fray;
then, help me to forgive you, God,
if only long enough to dive in myself.
Perhaps we’ll meet each other there.
Friends, whatever it takes, reach out to one another. Close gaps. Say good words. Unsay bad words. Leave offerings at the altar and confront the distances between. Life is far too precious, fragile and short to allow anything to separate what God brings together. If it is in your power, do it. Let us count our lives in the eggshells they are and…love.