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What Remains?

From a young age death has been part of my life—sometimes at the corner and sometimes in the middle.  Friends of my parents lived on a bay near our house.  Their toddler drowned.  After high school one of my peers died.  Suicide or drugs? We were not quite sure.  When I was nine, my father died, ripping the fabric of our family apart.

At university I learned about a relatively new movement—hospice.  I found the idea of death in the midst of one’s family appealing, having had my father isolated in hospitals.  I have worked in hospices three different times in my career.  The last time was just over a year ago.  One thing it taught me was I am vulnerable.   Some of the patients there were much older than me.  Some were much younger.  Many, however, were very close to my age.  Some days I wondered whether I could face death in the face again—not just their deaths but the possibility of my own.  I have always known death was close, but this last experience of hospice reminded me how close.  I found that reminder uncomfortable.

As I sit in my home, hiding from a virus that threatens my life, something I can only fight by washing my hands and distancing myself from people, I, again, feel my vulnerability.  Most of the time I don’t think vulnerability.  Lockdown is a daily reminder of my limitations—and of the limitations of the society we have built.

I like to pretend death is far off.  I like to pretend I have not vulnerable.  I like to pretend I can control life.  Unfortunately,  death is closer than I like to acknowledge.  I do not control the world or even my small corner of the world.  Stuff happens that is beyond my control.  Sometimes it happens because another person puts it into motion.  Sometimes it just happen.  I am not in control.  Lockdown reminds me, like hospice, that I am a human being and, as such, I am vulnerable.  

I have bought into the view of life that limits my exposure to my vulnerability.  This worldview is  not the truth.  Even without a pandemic I have experienced events that wiped out life—hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, death, broken relationships, joblessness.  All of these experiences changed me.  They destroyed my sense of safety.  Still, after each one, I rebuilt.  I saw others rebuild.  I buried the pain, sadness, anger, and redesigned a worldview in which vulnerability was pushed to the edge or under the carpet.  In lockdown, I can no longer push that vulnerability away.  As a human being, I am vulnerable.

As I reflect on my vulnerability, I have also read a book called “The Theology of Trauma.”  In it the author writes about the uncomfortable place of Holy Saturday—the day between the end and a beginning, a day of not knowing and not yet.  She asserts that this day is more like our experience of life, of our vulnerability.  Despite the fear, pain, anger of Holy Saturday, what remains, Rambo writes,  is love, embodied in us by the Spirit.  Love is breathed to the disciples by Jesus.  That love guided them in the days after his death and resurrection as they tried to understand the meaning of these events.  Love remained for them. In our own daily Holy Saturday, a time after and before, love remains.

As I come to terms with my vulnerability, and I reflect on what a virus means for the life of the local church, I cling to the affirmation,“Love remains.”


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