It goes on.
August 26, 2010
If you’re not careful, it will sneak up on you. You might be having a conversation with the librarian in the public library about how her bracelet looks like your rosary. She says that, yeah, her mom’s rosary looks like that, too. And then she tells about how upset her mom was when the rosary was lost, and that when her husband found it in the couch, how happy her mom was. How her mom cried with joy. Then you might mention to this librarian to be sure and go home and hug her mom and tell her how much she loves her. She might look at you weird and smile sadly, not knowing how much you long to see your mother cry with joy over a lost thing.
Then you might go out to the parking lot and sit in the blistering hot car and cry and cry.
Well, you might not, but I did.
It will sneak up on you, grief.
C.S. Lewis said that nobody ever told him that grief felt like fear. It feels like that, certainly, and also like hunger, emptiness, craving, longing, like those days when you know you are hungry for something but can’t quite figure out what it is. I have felt like that for three weeks now. I am hungry to share little things.
Glenda and Melissa, ca. 1966.Glenda and Melissa, ca. 1966.
After talking to her almost every day for most of my life (except for those excruciating five months apart in 2007), I long to say “Now look at Mickey!” and hear “I don’t want to look at your dumb cat” with a laugh. Or to share about a movie (“Don’t you think the ‘Shall We Dance’ with J. Lo is better than the one from Japan?”), recipes (no-knead bread!) and outfits (“Does this skirt go with this denim shirt that I know you hate?”) I rattle around this big old house and talk to her stuff, talk to her chair, talk to her. Tell her my book isn’t going so good. Tell her I am going to a icon painting workshop in Denver. Tell her my college diploma is finally on its way.
I was clicking around the TV channels the other night, lonely, and thought something funny might cheer me up. There was a movie on with this British guy that I remembered being funny, so I started watching it, right at a scene with this guy and his dying mother. At the time, I thought “maybe I shouldn’t watch this” but then he started telling his mom that there’s another life after death where we go that is joyful and beautiful. His mother and everyone around were astounded and impressed. I couldn’t figure out why it was such a revelation to everyone – haven’t we been talking about an afterlife for, well, like 4000 years or something? So I clicked on “Info” to see the name of the movie.
It was called “The Invention of Lying.”
The movie’s premise was that there is only one man who has ever been able to lie. I turned it off, realizing that it was probably, like so much in the media these days, an attack on religion. Later, I was not surprised to find out Ricky Gervais (the funny British guy and the co-writer and co-director of the movie) is an atheist. Good for him. Good for him, that he is able to use his immense talent and resources to try to advance his agenda using ridicule. The man doth protest too much, methinks, for someone who doesn’t believe.
I don’t believe in trying to reason with an atheist. In my opinion, the “if you don’t understand, I can’t explain it to you” maxim applies here, as it does with Dostoevsky and Harley riders. Any kind of debate involving Pascal’s Wager and seeking the truth and having evidence comes down to this: either you need God or you don’t.
I have been a non-believer. An atheist, even. There was a stretch in my life, 20 years ago now, where I could not believe that anyone, including God, cared about me. See how He had let me fall? See how He made me suffer? How could an omnipotent and omnibenevolent Being do such a thing? I turned my back on Him.
Like St. Therese of Lisieux, I sat at the table of non-believers, a table filled with bitterness, and I prayed though I was convinced no one was listening: “Lord, have pity on me.” And He did. He sent a high school friend who took me to an old church, where she touched water to her forehead, and knelt in front of an altar, and showed me the crutches and crosses of those who had been healed. And I believed again.
That lapse of faith had less to do with how much God knew or loved me and more about how little I knew and loved myself. When I was able to put my anger aside, I reached out in hope. Hope for something better than just embittered self-sufficiency, something better in this life, and the next.
I admit it: I need Him. I admit to being a weak, pathetic, emotional ignoramus who can’t even empirically prove that the one motivating factor in my life even exists. I strive to pray without ceasing. I long to paint icons of angels and saints and of His Holy Face. I go to Church, not everyday, but every chance I get. I worship God with my life, and I “earnestly seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Call me misguided, stupid and blind. I have been all those things, and much worse. That is why I need Him.
Robert Frost said, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.” Did Frost mean that life is just a mundane journey that continues day by day, or did he mean that life goes on after life? I don’t know, but I know what I need to believe.
I need to believe that I will touch the face of God.
I need to believe that I will see Granny and Charles and all those souls who have touched me in this life.
I need to believe that I will see my mother again.
I need to believe that it didn’t end with those last few breaths she took, and that moment I saw her stop breathing was not the end, but the beginning.
I need to believe that it goes on.