So you must not judge what I know by what I have words for.
From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
This is the Moss Lady. My favourite place to sit in the park is on the bench hewn from a massive log that is across from her. I’m sure it was placed to respectfully take in the majesty of this spot. I started to add another image that seemed full of hidden mystery and then I remembered the Moss Lady. I imagined her ear and her palm listening to the earth. Listening for what we don’t have words to say.
I want to believe that. I want to believe that what seems to be true and I cannot explain is real. I want to believe that God is present in my lost-ness and my longing to belong or whatever sense that is. I want to believe that I can rest in that unknown—that I can dig all manner of weeds, read books, walk around, and gratefully lack control.
And yet, I look for tangible evidence of what does matter. How can I not know that? Because I cannot square what I choose with what happens? “What am I to do” or more accurately “what should I do” seems to be a question I ask too often.
Every day there are moments when I connect with the Creator and when I’m really brave—with other people. I long for those assurances, for belonging even when I cannot name what that is or how it happens. When I’ve caught a glimpse of that mystery, it doesn’t depend on me.
Those moments are both expected and surprising and sometimes, I miss them. I cherish a particular span of time with my Aunt Edna when my mom and I cared for her in the last months of her life. Less than a year later, I was doing the same caregiving for my Mom that made dying seem familiar and shared. Then, I spent his last days with my Dad when weeks became moments and words were only mine–a rare thing to happen between us since he was “a talker.” My sister Lisa came to stay with me for a week when I knew the end of her life was inevitable and the end of her life still showed up unexpectedly, half a month later.
Those moments our family shared gradually accumulated to reflect our whole lives. During those days, I knew an irrational peace while time stood still. I didn’t really consider things I “needed to do;” I simply entered into what came in the next few minutes as I did the everyday things with extraordinary attention.
That collected experience might be why I spent a single night with Carolyn and her husband Harold. I’d only exchanged a few words with Harold over the years I saw them at church. Mitch and I stopped by the hospice room on our way home that evening. Neither of us remembers how we both decided to visit. As their pastor, Mitch had checked in on them before but my involvement now seems happenstance.
When we arrived, we learned Carolyn and Harold’s only daughter Susan unexpectedly had to drive back home, three hours away, and would return the next morning. Carolyn would be alone in the room with Harold that night, where she and Susan had held death’s vigil for weeks.
I simply offered, “I can stay.” I didn’t consider that I had not even made it home from work on that day. I don’t remember anything Carolyn and I talked about or if we shared a meal before the daylight waned. I can still see her, a petite brunette with kind eyes, sitting in the big chair at the end of Harold’s bed.
I slept in the other lounge chair and listened to Harold’s noisy breathing. I knew about death rattles, as they are called, from Edna and then my Mom’s last days when their lungs were filling up with fluid that would eventually silence the rattling. And that was Harold’s quiet end just before dawn.
Carolyn thanked me for staying as we waited for Susan and Mitch to return. I was grateful, too, although I can’t explain why. Grateful for the happenstance and unquestioning response, I suppose. Grateful for the enormity of blessing in the presence of death
Maybe I can trust this kind of unexpected turn to an ordinary Friday. I say that our lives cannot be reasoned when that is precisely what I continue to try to accomplish when I second-guess and fret over what I do and what I could do, and what just happens. Maybe I will do that a little less if I keep my ear and my palm resting on the earth like the Moss Lady.
How would I live if I attended to an experience of time that I cannot reason or control or even fill up of my own volition? Would I relax my mind, refrain from worry and fret, and listen?
I don’t know how to explain how death made life unencumbered in my experiences. There isn’t an absence of pain, reflection, or blessing; there is an alteration of focus. And it is not my wondering that has a word to add. Yet, there is the spirit of hope and healing and connection and Love that is real; LIVE THERE.