Are We There Yet?

(Originally published in February of 2014)

About six weeks before he left us, it occurred to me that Grant and I must sometimes look a bit like those kids tucked into the back seat of the family car heading out to an unfamiliar destination – back in the day. The following was written at during those weeks.

AreWeThereYet1939

The youngsters are surprised at  being on a trip that they knew nothing about the day before but they find ways to make the best of the unexpected outing on an unfamiliar road. By noon, however, the sense of adventure wears thin and the question(s) began floating up from the back seat to the authorities in the front seat.

Are we there yet? 

He’s not staying on his side.

How much farther is it?

I see a house! Is that where we’re going?

….are we there yet?

Deciding ahead of time what we can stand. Trying to make sense of the turns and the shifts.  Trying out the idea that accepting the inevitable will allow ease in the interim,  we forget that the unknowns are unknown at all times.

mbob1Not knowing what we don’t know has become home port.

Like Alice in Wonderland we walk bravely at full height on the surface in the sunshine of the woods, but then our struggle to comprehend shrinks in direct relation to the querulous question that we try not to ask again at three in the afternoon of this long, long day as we realize we are falling, falling, falling.

Are we there yet?

No.

We accept that the desire for context is pointless. We know the grace of God and walk by faith. We are soothed by mysterious and ineffable moves of His Spirit as we are carried by a very capable shepherd. By a very Good Shepherd.

Within the immediate experience of His care we are always at the limits of our own strength where we are learning a sharp lesson – humility is a necessary ingredient in sanity as we are forcibly made aware of our helplessness.

Are we there yet? This undefined heart cry is based on a faulty assumption that we really do want the journey to be over but that would only make sense if we were going to be tucked safely back in the same bed we left that morning – at the end of the long drive.

The childlike effort to impose an itinerary on the unknown is futile but I still catch myself frantically dusting life’s table tops while the screen door is hanging off its hinges and banging against the side of my house while the sand keeps coming in.

Instinctively wanting so badly to go west! go west! I run as fast as I can down the aisle toward the back of the train as it builds steam and rattles on toward the rising sun.

~~~~~~~

When busyness escalates, conscious grieving de-escalates. That’s a problem, because conscious grieving must be given room to breathe until the tiresome trip to the unfamiliar event is over. We grieve together.  We’re not forced to. We choose to.

mbob2Prior to New Year’s it seemed easy enough to say to the oncologists who kept making appointments “Leave us alone and let us live our lives!”

(and in mid-sentence there, the doorbell rang for the fourth time today with another delivery of prescriptions,  which was preceded by the fifth phone call today from the MDE [Medical Durable Equipment] – this one wanting to be very sure that we were entirely thrilled with the deliveries their drivers made. [can you say quality control run amok?] How thrilled should you be over a bedside commode sitting in the garage alongside the wheelchair and the emergency oxygen tank?  Grateful, of course. Up for another customer satisfaction survey? Not by a long shot.)

Our living is being done in the confines of a small boat being over-washed by waves of details that make life near to impossible unless we choose to live.

Choose to weep. Choose to love. Choose to grieve. Choose to hold. Choose to touch. Choose to speak. If we don’t choose to live these days they will be reduced to a series of painful checklists-without-nuance that must be rushed through before fatigue sets in and the sun goes down.

Are we there yet?

No. For now, we travel on together.

pending-storm-of-separation-pieter-oosthuizen

Because I tend to get over-involved in process, dear ones wiser than I am have given this good counsel:

Forget the process. A hurricane is coming. Prepare to survive the hurricane. Allowing the process to dictate perspective almost guarantees an inability to be present at the event that is your destination.

Insisting on a perpetual big-picture, distant perspective is an illusion reflecting the secret dream that there will not be a last day. There will be a last day.

Are we there yet?

Some journeys can be usefully defined by the road that was traveled to get there, the journey may be fulfilled by willingly engaging in the process but this is not one of them.

There are journeys in which destination and travel time may overlap and co-mingle while retaining their distinctive purposes and characteristics but this isn’t one of them.

Where death is concerned the road traveled – the process – does not constitute the journey and should not be confused with the destination.

Are We There Yet?

No, we’re not, and the sense of discovery that characterized the early journey has lost its ability to assauge raw emotion.  Now we walk more slowly, taking deliberate notice of the darkening trees. We are just children in the deep woods who know the secure love of the Keeper of the Woods but who have never walked this path before and will never walk it together again. The Lord is my Shepherd.

Are we there yet?

No.

For the one who is leaving, the question is eventually answered in the affirmative.

Light of GodYes, Child. You are There. You are Here. You are Home.

For those who live on, that question is never asked again because it doesn’t matter any more. All that matters now is the journey.

Death is a specific event which has one afterward for the dead and quite another afterward for the quick.

Now there’s an inside joke in that last paragraph: the old version of The Apostles’ Creed that we recited every Sunday in our little country church included the phrase, “...the quick and the dead….” so as youngsters we thought it was terribly funny to think of the living as those who were just flat quick enough not to be caught among the dead.  What can I tell you…we thought that was hilarious….

….but back to the point: when the event is over, the journey for the quick is just beginning.

Pretending that the two journeys are one – whether for convenience of planning or to gain courage from pretended numbers only helps temporarily and is a myth which at some point must be abandoned.

Are we there yet?

It seems like time has slowed.

The question begins to soften into something completely different.

It has become an unspoken wondering, “Are we still here?”

And we continue toward the appointed place from which we will not return.

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