As I did the morning readings, something in the Gospel acclamation in John 13 sent me off on a tangent. I have been given a new commandment to love one another as Jesus loves me. What exactly does this mean to me right now? I have struggled a bit in these past two years to figure out how to keep my heart open and vulnerable, knowing full well how great the sorrow will be to leave this world and to break hearts in the parting. Today was the first time I ever thought about how Jesus might have felt at his departure, knowing full well that those who had grown to love him would be confused, angry, disoriented, and grieved.
Love as Jesus loved….right until the end. He remained vulnerable and open to betrayal, sorrow, and love. That is a tall order. What is my lesson here? The first year after my diagnosis and prognosis was challenging. I would weep at my goodbyes with family and friends. I could not bear the thought that this would be the last time I might see them. After a particular ugly crying jag with a far-away friend (who I have seen three times since), I decided that I could not go on this way. Neither could she. Our next gatherings were lighter and more relaxed. Since I did not know how long I had, I needed to just be open.
This has not been a simple feat and is an ongoing struggle. I confessed to my social worker in our last session that I felt as if my light as fading. I knew exactly what I meant — it is the look that I have seen in the faces of those who are dying. I saw it in my father’s eyes before I left on the trip. I knew that he was leaving us, but I could not tell when exactly. I saw it in my dear pastor’s eyes when I returned from Africa. I call it the dimming of the soul lamp, the moment when your spirit knows it is ready for the journey home and needs to turn out the lights in its temporary home. It was the first time I have felt it in this two-year saga. Naturally, my therapist wanted to know how I left about it. I named some emotions but danced around the one he finally placed gently on the table: Sadness? Yes, I responded, as the tears flowed, I am not yet ready to go.
I sense something has internally shifted since then. Perhaps I was experiencing a flickering and not a dimming. The fatigue I was feeling lifted somewhat which has been helpful. Now my thoughts turn back to how I am to engage in relationships in these final months. I still want to create good memories with people. The list of people who want to get together keeps growing while my desire to cocoon grows a bit. I have an interest but not always the energy. This morning after reading that single line from John, I had flashes of Jesus in the garden, asking his friends why they could not stay awake, returning to pray by himself, distraught at what was to come, of giving Mary to John and he to her at the foot of the cross, of looking into Peter’s eyes with love despite the betrayal, of walking the Via Dolorosa with determination, of spending time with his mother after the resurrection, and of meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus. How is Jesus calling me to love right now?
I have rarely chosen the easy way in life. I am not often the tin man whose heart is missing, or the lion who needs to find courage–I have sung If I Only Had a Brain on occasion. I am not a wooden statue who has no feelings. I have deep relationships which I value. Decades ago when I lived on the east coast in a community, I thought my heart would be splintered into a million pieces at the thought of leaving and returning to Canada. The experience had been so pivotal that I knew I was not the same person who had left. I was not ready to let go of these people, the places that I had grown to love, and the new thoughts circulating in my head. As my departure date drew near, conversations on the beach, in my office, in my home, and in the park wrestled with the sadness we all felt. Did I disengage now or did we simply tackle the reality head on? Avoid or engage? Unplug emotions or be prepared to feel the immense pain as I headed north. I chose then to engage and let my heart shatter. I stayed present right until the end.
Now I feel the anxiety of living loved and loving fully. A recent interaction with a friend brought tears to us both as we embraced and I agreed that I would find a way to visit her through the thin veil. I know that it is possible. I find myself for the first time in life, taking baby steps away from people. I cannot bear the thought of leaving my loved ones. Yet, as we prepare, I love the plans we are beginning to create around this process. I want these moments of intimacy. I want death to not have the final word. I want love to place the final seal upon my life. As I look at Christ’s final days, I am drawn to stay with his example and to learn to love others as Jesus has so tenderly and mercifully loved me, and those who walked with him. I am uncertain how to do this but I think it is the risk that I must take. No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear, Lewis writes in A Grief Observed. He is right, of course. I cannot let fear stop Love. I know the suffering that means for myself and those who wish to join with me on this adventure. I am more than acquainted with grief. Perhaps if I was not, this would be much easier on me. Still I will ponder on the One whose example is my guide. Perhaps something will become clearer in the weeks and months ahead.
How do you stay engaged when you know that the cost will be dear?
Why do you choose to stay in the game rather than retreat?
Jesus, you show us the way. If we keep our eyes on you, we have nothing to fear. You are with us and you will shepherd us. May my heart be open to living, loving and being loved. Amen.