Words

January 7, 2008

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there is no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.

He who was seated on the throne said “I am making everything new!”

Revelations 21:1-5

And now from beneath the audible, came a low reverberation. It came up through the soles of my feet. I stood still while it hummed upward bone by bone. There is no adequate simile. The pulse of the country worked through my body until I recognized it as music. As language. And the language ran everywhere inside me, like blood, and for feeling, it was as if through time I had been made of earth or mud or other insensate matter. Like a rhyme learned in antiquity a verse blazed to mind: O be quick, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant my feet!

…He [my father, Jeremiah] sat down on the rock and swung his feet in the stream — it was deep and swift; it would take him in a moment. I seized his arm.

Please, I said.

Soon, he replied, which makes better sense under the rules of that country than ours. Very soon! he added, clasping my hands; then, unable to keep from laughing, he pushed off from the rock like a boy going for the first cold swim of spring; and the current got him. The stream was singing aloud, and I heard him singing with it until he dropped over the edge.

The character, Reuben Land, from Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River

An explanation: Reuben and his father, Jeremiah Land, are both on what could be described as the outskirts of heaven. Because of a variety of circumstances, Jeremiah is staying and Reuben cannot. As a side note, this is a stunningly beautiful book, full of rich characters (Jeremiah is right up there with Atticus Finch in terms of my all-time favorite literary characters) and lovely writing. The chapter I’ve excerpted proves to me that art can be inspired, in the God-sense of the word. Aside from God’s own words in Revelations, this is bar none the most gorgeous description of the joy we will feel when we join our Lord forever.

Words. I love them. Implacable. Giraffe. Ethereal. Tawny. So many words I enjoy to roll around on my tongue. I have so little visual talent — I have trouble discerning one shade of color from another; I have virtually no spatial sense (just ask my husband how I wanted to arrange the new furniture in the family room); I simply don’t see the world in pictures — I hear it in words. I especially appreciate when those words contain beauty and when they tell the truth. And words obey me some of the time. I can use them to convey exactly what I need, at least at times.

So it’s interesting that words betray me a bit right now. I can’t explain all of my emotions in words, not yet. I can tell you that the last few days with my mom in the hospital have been, on the whole, unspeakably crappy. (Leif Enger I ain’t my friends.) I can tell you how despairing she’s been, how exhausted she feels in the battle against cancer. I can tell you that the synergy between my parents seems sometimes to be sucking the life away from each of them — each so worried for the other, each so afraid that they won’t be able to function to help the other get well.

I will say that my mom is probably going to try a new cancer treatment — the big gun that we’ve been holding in our pockets until absolutely necessary — the big gun because it’s one of the very last guns. And I could cite all sorts of statistics about how this medicine may or may not work for her. I can’t say why she was vomiting blood (her endoscopy was relatively clean, so no clear explanation there) or why her hemoglobin dropped so precipitously in such a short time. I venture to guess: her body’s just getting worn out. As she has said, she’s tired. Damn tired. And I could speculate that my mom might not try the new treatment if she weren’t trying to hang in there for my dad. I could say, “Yeah, that’s beautiful. That’s love.”

But, bleh. None of that’s exactly what I want to say or how I want to say it.

I have sensed in my spirit for some bit of time that God is preparing me for my mother’s death. A stark sentence to be sure, and I get that this doesn’t mean she’s dying next week. I love my mom so much that God knows I need a lot of time to prepare.

In my own raging inadequacy, I find the words of others — God, himself, and Mr. Enger — such a balm. Everything new. A beautiful bride. No more death or mourning or tears. And oh, the idea that soon means something different in heaven’s economy than in our own! That separation from those we love is much much shorter than we can possibly understand. How I cling to that right now. We’re so agonizingly bound by time and by our own sinfulness that words fail us much of the time in trying to understand the infinite and the perfect. But sometimes words can at least give me a glimmer. And glimmers can be surprisingly strong knots to tie on at the end of one’s rope.

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One Response to “Words”

  1. kate whitman said

    Beth,
    I am at loss for words to know how to comfort when my friend is experiencing such sorrow and grief. Your words are beautiful. You express in such a painfully beautiful way the difficult tensions of life, and hope, and grief. May God give you strength as you grieve and process the decline of both of your parents right in front of your eyes. I am so very sad for you and for your parents. Hopefully, your love, inadequate as you may feel it is, is a balm for your parents as they face their final days.
    On a practical note, is palliative care or hospice involved yet? They are both wonderful resources for the family and patient.
    Also, what practical way can Andy and I serve you? A meal, a little babysitting help, an evening out for a few hours away from the kids? Do let us know.
    We love you and Tim.
    Kate and Andy

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