Some mornings the new mercy arrives at 4 a.m., looking like a slice of lemon yellow sunrise behind ragged lavender clouds. My early morning drive to the hospital sent me due east. Not knowing what I would find there, I thanked God for the mercy of ambulances and strong men who lift gently and answer questions with thorough patience. When I arrived, I thanked Him for a thoughtful son who showed up unexpectedly and stood in a cramped, curtained room waiting for inconclusive test results. There were no windows in this meeting place to announce daylight’s arrival, but this one thing I know: by the time the coastal mist had burned off and blue sky had chosen the morning, Mum was already in heaven.
That afternoon, three generations gathered around spaghetti and salad and pictures from my mother’s albums. Remembering and wondering and making ten thousand phone calls filled in the spaces of that whole day, but this is a homeschooling family, so the following sunrise was succeeded quickly by breakfast as usual — and trigonometry. My graduating senior will tell you that trig has a language all its own, but what I see in these days of comings and goings is a charming branch of mathematics that assures me that there is a relationship among all the parts. If I know the measure of an angle and the length of a couple of sides, I can figure out the whole triangle. This is oddly comforting on the morning after an abrupt departure that followed a mere three hours in the emergency room — a flight that somehow connects the vast horizon of heaven to the granite outcroppings and furrowed garden soil that comprise my everyday world.
Poet Luci Shaw compares the death of a parent to standing on the top rung of a ladder. Suddenly there you are, at the top, hands grasping at nothing, “no one above you to compass the wideness of space.” Mum had long ago ceded the role of family matriarch to me, her older daughter, but even so, the generational ladder is filling up behind me and every milestone feels momentous. For example, this year marks a perpendicular line that perfectly bisects the span of my days. At the age of 27, I married an unreasonably patient man, and this month marks our 27th anniversary. Finally, I have been married for as many years as I was single, my life folding over onto itself with a neat center crease like a greeting card — or a church bulletin.
This intersection of halves has set me to wondering: would the single me even recognize her married counterpart, all settled into gardening and homeschooling, and happy to spend any amount of time alone with a book and a pen? At the same time, my married self looks back with astonishment at all the energy and emotion that was spent like water in those early decades. Surely there’s some way to capture and recycle it?
Of course, all this comparing and contrasting of the two halves is one more evidence that I “see in a mirror dimly.” So, as I grab my cuff and vigorously wipe away as much of the fog as I can, the clearing surface reveals an aging faith along with this aging face. The girl who loved theology — but was pretty sure she wasn’t smart enough to declare it as a major — would be astonished at all the reading and re-reading of sacred words, the taking of notes and the building of outlines that goes on in this graying head.
The Truer Meeting Place
Paul writes about this kind of growth in a letter to the Ephesians that emphasizes wholeness and a maturing process that is endless, for today it is incomprehensible that I could be “like Christ in everything . . . so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” (MSG) Meeting myself in the middle and saying goodbye to my mother allows all that is past to strike a sympathetic chord with the future. I’m encouraged to move forward, mindful of my weaknesses and stubborn sin tendencies — but not defined by them.
Madeleine L’Engle once said in her later years, “I am still every age that I have been.” She may have worked that out through her career as an author, but with my mother’s departure, I’m seeing it happen in real life. Already the past ten years of cantankerous demands and stubbornness are being swallowed up in memories of better days when she laughed at her own jokes and answered the phone with a high pitched “hallooo” (that my sister and I always made fun of). Her older grandsons remember stale Oreos and boxed macaroni and cheese served with joy while they watched Teletubbies on her t.v.
Perhaps this miracle of memory foreshadows a truer meeting place that will become reality once faith has become sight; when the energy of the twenties; the ambition of the thirties; the settled contentment of the forties; and the ripening wisdom of the fifties and beyond all meet, join hands, and dance in a full-hearted, completely mended consummation of a life, “fully mature . . ., fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13 MSG)
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