It was only three years ago … The sound of dishes clanged in the sink as nervous laughter surrounded the room. Ron was home for the holidays, it would be the first time in ten years. He brought his girlfriend to meet the family; they had been together for fifteen years. Everyone chattered with excitement. Words were passed around the room like a dinner entrée. The room bustled with nicety. It was after all Thanksgiving and we were family. The younger generation played and wrestled vying for Ron’s attention, while others in the room had given up hope that Ron would ever be a part of their lives. It was not the talk that rings in my memory but the un- spoken that remains sharp and pointed. Questions, un-asked, that waited, ready to erupt at any moment but would never break free. Facts that no one could ignore and no one could acknowledge. The silent disillusionment resonated and settled on each heart for Ron had fourth stage melanoma. He died in January of 2009.
It was 2011 and the sound of dishes clanked in the same sink as excited comfortable laughter rang throughout the house. The younger generation talked enthusiastically. The meal was spectacular and the atmosphere cheerful, warm and pleasant. Much would never change, much has changed, and much will always be.
Don’t leave things unsaid. I oft hear this offhand advice but I suspect the speaker has never desperately wanted to be heard or believes a simple voicing of, “I love you!” would fix the problem. This is far from the truth. In fact the whole idea of fixing the broken is probably where this advice goes a rye because you cannot fix something that doesn’t exist. To have a relationship you must have a listener and a speaker, otherwise it is somewhat akin to playing catch with yourself. You keep saying the same things over and over …catch the ball…..but if it is not being received…the ball just drops and rolls. You can even throw ball after ball and each in turn will drop and roll. If a child complained about not being able to play catch with a friend you would tell the child to find a friend who wants to play catch or play a different game. Sage advice…we need to follow the wisdom that comes so naturally when working with children. Find a willing receiver or change the game. The yearning for relationship with someone who is unable to listen to your message is in itself an agony that each of us face in one form or another. I don’t know exactly how to “change the game” but I know that I am personally caught in a failing cycle with many people I love. Much would never change.
I recognize that I reacted to this yearning to connect to with my brother by judging and I choose to believe that my brother was doing something wrong. He was making wrong choices or living in the wrong way or my favorite, he was hanging out with the wrong people. I came to the raw human truth that I was thinking about this in a totally mixed up way. I was the one saying the same things over and over (throw the ball) in the same non-productive way (ball drops and rolls). I say this not to condemn myself for I am also “just trying to figure it out” and I have through this experience learned to operate in God’s Grace towards myself and others, I recognize that each of us is loved unconditionally in spite of our many shortcomings. I am thankful for my experience of being caught between my judgments of my limited view of God for only in expanding my view of God was I able to see just how unconditionally loving God truly is. This realization was a process and didn’t happen overnight. I am thankful to the people who allowed God to shine through them by listening. I remember a particular pastor who after listening to me struggle with the idea that my brother may not have made heaven. He quietly and simply said, “Perhaps your brother knew something you didn’t”? I was shocked for I was looking for a death bed conversion to Christianity. I even had a formula that needed to be followed to get into heaven. What could he have possibly known that I did not? Through this question the peace of understanding began to trickle into my being. I wish I could claim that I came to a supernatural understanding immediately but I cannot. The process was slow and methodical. My hyper focus on religion was similar to a photographer failing to see the panoramic view due to his telescopic lens, I was challenged to stop and look up. It was painful and required exposing my own judgments, failures, and basic raw humanness. I would ultimately find that I had created a false God. A God limited by my own religious preconceptions. I worshipped this God and tried to mold the world around me into a quaint religious system. I had wielded a sword of judgment with accurate precision executing conformity cuts that would neatly fit into my world. I tried to limit the infinite. I tried to limit God. Much has changed.
I once saw a movie with a climbing dilemma in it, a family finds themselves dangling from a safety rope. The father is at the bottom of the rope dangling over a large expansive ravine and the rope is unraveling strand by strand each breaking from the stress. The father yells to his son to cut him loose. It is the only way the family rest of the family can survive. The son cuts his dad loose and in true movie fashion everyone else climbs to safety. I wrote about this dilemma in my journal shortly after Ron died. I wrote about the idea of cutting my brother away and “letting him go”. You will often hear this advice as you deal with death. What dawns on me in retrospect is that I had to cut two ropes one which allowed my brother to go and the second rope released me from previous beliefs and judgments that no longer fit. I could no longer remain tied to the same system I had attached myself to for the last 49 years. As I cut myself away thread by thread, judgment by judgment, false god by false god, religious ritual by religious ritual, I was surprised to find myself caught in the loving hands of a second safety rope, not dangling powerless over the great expanse of death and despair, but wrapped in a comfortable safety harness. This safety harness was God’s grace. It was God and He was always there, I just didn’t know it. Much will always be.
Much would not change, much has changed and much will always be.