Hancock smiled, “This is the final ice floe. I have no choice. It’s what’s been handed me.”
“No, it isn’t. Why do you think I’m here?”
“Because you’re so wrapped up in your own sorrow you can barely think straight. Because you can’t sleep and came here to get away, from yourself.”
“Well, that too, perhaps,” smiled Gamache. “But what are the chances we’d meet in the middle of the storm? Had I come ten minutes earlier or later, had we walked ten feet apart, we’d have missed each other. Walked right by without seeing, blinded by the blizzard.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying, what are the chances?”
“Does it matter? It happened. We met.”
(from Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny)
Every now and then we can be reminded of just how precious this one life is that we are living. Each year. Each day. Each hour. Each moment. Every now and then we can be reminded of chance and how it often plays such a life-giving part of our lives. We can be shown lessons, given gifts in the most unexpected ways. Every now and then we can be reminded of grace.
This past week I was heading out of the office to grab some lunch. I’d been on the computer all morning, and I was about done-in with buttons and prompts. I was so weary of looking at a screen. Tunnel vision, and feeling like there was very little to show for it. I walked out into the parking lot and heard this funny sound. It wasn’t sirens, or horns clashing. It was a kind of honking, the kind that drew my eyes up. And there they were ~ 40, 50, 60 geese flying overhead
Everything suddenly stopped. The hustle and bustle, the hurrying and scurrying. Everything stopped. The focus was now fully on creatures moving together, making there way north. Loudly, this choreographed dance played across the sky, passing right over me.
Witnessing this one moment filled my spirit with a refreshing “alleluia!” Somehow this moment invited me back to something bigger, greater than where I had just been a minute bef. With these honking, dancing navigators I was welcomed back into the world that holds my heart and keeps me grounded.
And what are the odds? Really. What are the odds that I would be given the gift of witnessing this one moment for all of us (the geese and me)? I took the elevator, what if I’d taken the stairs; I could have parked on the other side of the building; I could have made one more phone call.
What are the chances?
For as long as I can remember I've marveled at the "V" shape of geese flying. Fluidly moving, always transforming there are lessons we humans can learn. There isn't one leader, leading the pack. There are many leaders. How do they do it? Is there a manual that the flock reads before every journey? Is there a timekeeper who lets the members know when its time to switch? Is there a caller, whose particular honking communicates to the flock: "Switch!" It happens. Organically. Economically. Faithfully. Leadership is shared, individuals move paying attention to the Body, and all this happens without missing a beat. Cooperation and shared purpose at its finest. (So unlike my morning had felt. So much of what is the best of shared work.)
There in the parking lot, I was reminded of grace. Of space. Of place. Of wonder and movement. Of honking so loudly. Of sharing the point of the “V.” Of something truly, truly beautiful.
A strong image of grief for me is the doorway. There is an entering in that often changes relationships and things are just not ever the same. I believe because of the courage that it takes to allow another to enter and the courage it takes to enter in ~ because of these heart-filled moments, what happens is deep and abiding love.
Death brings the most intimate of all experiences into the public domain. It often forces someone into the light when we feel most lost and vulnerable. Friends and acquaintances somehow learn of the death ~ through word-of-mouth or now through social media. It’s that image of ripping open a feather pillow and all the feathers are out in world, impossible to retrieve. This great loss becomes known. Where there was a deep and desperate void, there is now a doorway. An opening, an opportunity for entry.
Death comes in different ways: the physical ending of a loved one’s life, or a miscarriage, divorce, a break-up, disease, suffering of violent acts, loss of innocence. All these life events, these abrupt endings that make our hearts stop, all of these are places of grief. And they are for us, entryways.
A dear friend’s brother died this past week. Too soon. Too young. My friend risked the telling and I pray that she has felt the love of those of us who have entered into this deeply tragic loss with her. We have no answers. We have no way to fix this for her and her family. We have our love and prayers for light and healing. And we have been surrounding her since we heard. I am so very grateful that she found the courage of heart to allow us in.
Leonard Cohen’s words have been echoing in my heart this past week:
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything,
that’s how the light gets in.
He gives voice to the deep, aching silence of grief. He reminds us that there is love yet to share, hands to hold, candles to light.
My heart aches for my friend and her loss. And I am so grateful that she allowed others to enter into these tender days with her. Singing the song when memory fails as Donna Roberts wrote. It’s that. Everything has changed, nothing will be the same. But through this invitation, this entering in there is a companioning that can be all the difference.
Thank you, my friend. You are in my heart and prayers.
(A friend wrote to me and ask about forgiveness and what my thoughts were. It got me to writing. I think this might be a good and helpful practice for you as well. What do you think about forgiveness? What words would you say about it?)
Forgiveness is one of our "life lessons," and one that maybe takes us that long to figure out. My experience is that forgiveness is a sister to grace. They walk side-by-side.
I've learned that forgiveness is `my work to do.' The wrong has happened. It can't be undone. What we choose to carry with us from past that event is the weight and the burden. With time, I've come to understand that forgiveness is for us as much as the one we forgive. It allows us to put the weight down. It allows us to turn from that moment of pain and move away from it, toward something else.
Forgiveness can teach us about mercy, it can teach us about compassion, it can teach us about grace. We can learn that we are more than one event. We can learn that relationships are greater than that one event. We can learn that God is even bigger than all of that.
I'm sorry for the hurt that you have experienced, that brings you to this wondering. I believe that God has been with you every step of the way. And I believe that light is greater than darkness and love is greater than fear, greater than our pain. It has to be.
There is the notion of this event being in past ~ and that unless you choose to go through life in a rowboat (I'd prefer at least a houseboat, if not a sailboat), then it's up to you to choose.
His actions are his. Yours are yours. What happens next is about your actions, NOT his actions directing yours. Someone used the phrase "directing the movie you are starring in," and I think that's true. He is directing a movie of despair and violence. Not one you'd buy a ticket for or want to sit through.
Watch your own movie. Direct your own actions. Live your life ~ not through his direction or participation.
This doesn't mean you aren't truthful with the folks around you. Move on but if conversation is initiated, I encourage you to be honest about the details of the event. How you choose not to encounter him again. Light needs to come into this dark place.
You are NOT stuck in quicksand. Your life is MUCH bigger. His actions created an incredible amount of work for you, but it's now behind you. In your rearview mirror. Your windshield (driving forward) is MUCH bigger, much more interesting and will bring you life. The rearview mirror-driving will make your journey much slower and smaller. Peace to you and your family. May you remember that you are loved, truly love for seeing life in the midst of despair and hardship. Take good care, Lesley
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.