Her disappearance has been gradual. Little by little waning and weaning herself from the usual comforts and consolations – even those offered by her faith. Now prayer rings hollow, even the tried-and-true one liners like “Thy will be done” and “Have mercy on me,” my friend confesses.
And because life has become a running series of Job episodes, she’s ready to make her exit, claims to have one foot in the grave already. Naturally, she hopes it turns out the way Julie Suk saw it in her poem, Between Lives.
And what if it’s true that the life we’ve lived flashes by at the moment of death?
even for an instant would I want repeated
the boring drone of guilt,
nor the shabby aftermaths of desire.
black tunnel lit with epiphanies
would be my take –
sighs of contentment, laughter, a wild calling out –
at the end,
a brief flaring of the one we’d hoped to become
escorting us into the light.
The poetic imagery continues speaking to me, opening new vistas of soul exploration. Take for instance, the “black tunnel lit with epiphanies.” Dark tunnel: a universal symbol for the passage from life to death - although I’ve now reimagined that brief passage as the whole of life’s journey. Which, in light of eternity, is but a vapor. Our lives flashing before our eyes from cradle to grave.
How ephemeral this life is: as brief as the journey through the momentary tunnel at the children’s park where you hear a chorus of wild screams, then travel back into the brightness of daylight.
As brief as the time between Good Friday weighted down with grief and Sunday’s resurrected release from the dark domain. From light we come and to light we return.
As brief as a book cover. “This Life is Only the Prologue,” writes Wayne Jacobsen in his new book I was sent to review (see forthcoming post for more). “On the last page of the last book of his Narnia tales, just when the reader thinks the story is over because the world has ended, C.S. Lewis pulls back the curtain even farther as he writes of the four children:”
“For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world…had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Meanwhile we travel through these tunnels lit with epiphanies along the way. Reminders of who we are and why we’re here. Little signposts pointing to purpose and keeping us on track toward our divine destiny.
For, as Wordsworth put it, “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting”… and all who’ve come before us “trailing clouds of glory” lit our way. All the poets and prophets and saints, the Risen Christ and all of creation displaying his glory, the children of God who went out in a blaze but passed the torch along.
I’d like to remind my friend and each of us with one foot in the grave that we’re just walking each other home. This ain’t exactly the Hotel California. Whether we check out or not we’re leaving. But the drone of guilt sometimes follows us toward the exit.
Not long ago a fellow poet and dear friend said to me on her deathbed, “I wish I could have been a better person.” This from one of the most caring and generous souls I’ve known. Whoever she’d hoped to become was there all along, discovered tucked inside the pages of her Holy Bible after her death.
A prayer, an epigraph:
Let us feel you on our pulses and in our breathing and convince us in our very bodies that we live and die in the hollow of your hand. Release now these mute longings hidden in our hearts to join the early morning bird song singing green beginnings and multicolored hopes, for you are shaking us and shaping us into a springtime people with Easter in our eyes.
If this life is only the book cover and title page, what would your epigraph say? Your theme song? Mine would be almost as brief as the title: I Was Here. Something as brief as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Or maybe the last sentence in T.S. Eliot’s East Coker: “In my end is my beginning.”