Because my mom seems sicker today

December 29, 2006

The ongoing battle with questions of suffering…I feel raw tonight, exposed, and as tenuous as a sand sculpture.

For Christmas, Tim tracked down one of my favorite movies, Shadowlands, which tells the love story between C.S. Lewis and Joy Gresham. Tim and I saw it first in 1993 and marveled at the performances by Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger — so pitch perfect, so precisely consistent down to every murmur and half-gesture. It’s a terribly sad story (and a true one); Lewis married Joy knowing she was dying of bone cancer, so the story has a tragic inevitability as she declines and he grieves. That said, this isn’t a predictably manipulative film, wringing tears out if its audience for the sake of jerking us around. If anything, it presents love and life and even death as far more robust than we choose to see most of the time.

Near the end, during a brief remission from the cancer, Jack (Lewis’ nickname) and Joy take a trip through the English countryside. While they take shelter from a sudden cloudburst, Jack pronounces himself happy and says that he never wants to look around the next bend because right now is enough. But Joy forces him to remember that this moment will not last. He tells her that he’ll manage somehow and not to worry about him. So stuffy, so Oxford-don-like, so emotionally repressed — he’ll manage, he says. She smiles at him almost indulgently and says, “No. I think it can be better than that. I think it can be better than just managing.” She pauses as if trying to find the right words. “What I’m trying to say is that the pain then is part of the happiness now.” She looks up at him with the purest affection. “That’s the deal.”

These lines have stayed with me (I wonder if the real Joy Gresham ever uttered them), perhaps because I recognize a certain truth here. At the core of this life’s greatest joys is also — whether we can see its shadow like Joy did or remain completely oblivious — the spectre of loss and suffering. Because when we choose to love, we also choose to risk losing that love. This isn’t a contract that we often enter into willingly, but there’s a contract just the same. Stay with me here, because I’m not saying that we necessarily become grim about the future or mire ourselves in anxiety. That’s not what Joy or I think God is saying. I think, instead, that sometimes we are granted a glimpse — such a tiny glimpse really — at the wonder of God’s love for us, at his willingness to suffer anguish and loss on our behalf. As I or those I love suffer, I know that I cannot worship a Lord who hasn’t walked in these footsteps. If Jesus had not suffered, if God the Father had not lost the person He loved most, then what comfort could He offer any of us?

So…to put this more personally: The happiness then with my mom — summers spent together at our Lake Erie trailer, giggling into the night like school girls or picking out my wedding dress or sharing a bottle of wine at the end of the Gulf War when we realized Tim would be coming home — the happiness then is part of the pain now. And would I have chosen differently if I could have? Would I have chosen to forgo the happiness because the prospect of losing her breaks me wide open now? Of course not. That’s the deal.

And I have to believe that in God’s sovereign plan it’s not a raw deal. When we love someone well, I believe that some kind of eternal transaction has taken place — not just in terms of heaven and the future, though that’s a part of it — but love imprints itself on our spirits indelibly and becomes as real to the here and now as a limb or beating heart. Beyond that, there’s a permanency in choosing to love and be loved that so far surpasses this earthly body’s end. Surely, suffering now will be worth all that God has in store for us. I stake everything on that.

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6 Responses to “Because my mom seems sicker today”

  1. Erica said

    I got to see Shadowlands in the theatre when it first opened in London (I happened to be studying there for a semester at the time) and it was almost more spectacular on stage if you can imagine.

    Lovely post.
    Reminds me of Tennyson’s immortal words which are always a comfort to me in my grief:

    I hold it true whate’er befall
    I feel it when I sorrow most
    ‘Tis better to have loved and lost
    Than never to have loved at all.

    Joy and you are right.

  2. Tracy said

    I read your blog tonight and am crying. I can only imagine how much pain that you are in but you know that I will be here for you and will help out. I was praying for your mom today as I was driving from Delaware. And I will continue to pray for her and you.

  3. John McCollum said

    Praying.

  4. bethkoruna said

    Thanks all. Actually, writing it all out and remembering God (and my friends :>) makes me feel a whole lot better.

  5. Beth, I hope you had a great date tonight.

  6. nikkip said

    beautilfully written, beth.

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