Last week I got a voice mail from my mom that scared me half to death. There was no real reason for me to believe that tragedy lingered behind her words, but there was something in her voice and her words and the way she asked me to call her back at 5:00 that just didn't seem usual. I told myself there was nothing to worry about, that I had no reason to suspect that anything was really wrong--she just wanted to talk!
But I couldn't help it. Terrible thoughts passed through my crazy brain all day--what if something had happened to Grandma Gail or Grandpa Jack? What if something had happened to Ashley or Jody or Christy or another friend from home and I just hadn't heard yet? What if my mom had gone to the doctor and was diagnosed with Cancer or any other potentially fatal disease? what if what if what if what if.....?
I was on edge for hours, hardly able to wait until 5:00 to call. When I did I found out that everyone was fine except for our little dog Casper. I felt a little guilty for not being more devastated, and I was sad, mostly for my mom because i knew how upset she was, but I could hardly contain my relief that everyone I love was safe for one more day. What a blessing!
The thing is, I don't know what I would have done or how I would have reacted if my mom had told me that someone had died or was injured or if some other terrible tragedy had taken place in my absence? What would i do or think or feel? It is a terrifying thought to me that I don't know how I might respond to tragedy. I have seen a bit of death in my days, but I still haven't figured it out. I don't know how to feel and how to not feel and how to not lock things up in little corners of my heart and try to keep them wrapped up and hidden away where they can't hurt me and where no one else will see them or know they even exist. I haven't figure out how to confess my sorrows or to let others see those pieces of me that not even I know what to make of. And because I can't sort them out and make them mesh with the happiness that I try to feel and portray to those around me, I just pretend that those other things don't exist. And sometimes it is easier than others. And sometimes I can't pretend at all and everyone sees right through me and I feel transparent and exposed. And death is one of those things that maybe never becomes easier; something that we never know how to blend with our own living and the reality of our own eminent deaths. Even for those of us who believe so fully in an afterlife and in the never-ending bonds between families and loved ones, there is something of our mortality that prevents us from accepting that these few short years of life alone can be redeemed by an eternity of togetherness. There is something about living earth bound that gives us loyalty to this life and makes us value it in ways that perhaps we should not. Or perhaps we should. Because as short and as small as life may be, it is real and it is all that we have here and now. This is where we must make our homes and our lives and our families and where we must learn to love and feel and break through the cold barriers in our hearts and learn to cry and laugh and connect and be who we must become. This is where we decide if we want to touch and be touched by those around us or if we want to blockade ourselves into safety and protect our hearts from the hurt that shall inevitably come. I haven't learned how to do this yet, but I have great examples around me.
I am so grateful to my roommate Rachel who has one of the truest hearts I know. She knows how to let others in and allow them into her life (though I am sure she has those hidden hurts as we all do). And this week she impressed me more than ever. She received the call I dreaded last week and found out that her grandmother had passed away. And she cried and she remembered and she laughed and she shared and I know that even though she is hurting now and she doesn't know any more than the rest of us how to make the death of her grandmother fit into her heart without tearing it apart, she will heal that space and it will become another mark of her strength. She amazes me. God bless her and her family.