Monday, November 22, 2010

Where Is Thy Sting?

One by one – purse, briefcase, gym bag – I toss into the car the tangible burdens with which I begin each day. I pause just long enough to watch wide brown sycamore leaves, curled like arthritic hands, scuttle nervously across the yard in response to an asthmatic breeze. Somewhere down the road a diesel engine grinds up a hill and its sound vibrates over empty fields and against my cheeks. It is dawn. It is autumn. It is still.

I back the car out of the carport and pull into the thin gray fog that has unfurled itself over the field, skimming the tops of big round bales of peanut hay and disappearing into the woods. My hands are cold; my shoulders shiver once and send a jolt down my arms into my fingers. It is daybreak. It is November. It is chill.

I do not turn on the radio. I do not plug my ears with the buds from my iPod. I do not need any additional voices in my head. There are too many already. Too much conversation going on. Too many questions demanding answers that I will never have.

Twice in eleven days I have stood in line to greet a new widow. Twice I have taken hands between my own, pressed them gently and said, "I am so sorry." Twice I have wrapped my arms around shoulders that felt as though they might simply fold in on themselves and disappear into my chest.

One of the widows was old enough to be my mother. One of them was old enough to be me. One had been married over 50 years, the other nearly 30. The younger of the two said, "In a world where marriages don’t seem to last very long any more, I thought we’d been together a long time." Pausing, she looked down at the crumpled Kleenex in her hand and then back at me. "I was wrong."

Minister and chaplain Kate Braestrup wrote about going over vows with a soon-to-be-wed couple. The bride-to-be was a little unsure about "‘til death do us part." The reverend, herself a widow, pointed out the obvious but often overlooked fact that all marriages end, not just the ones that are terminated by the signature of a judge. "Being parted by death is actually your best-case scenario," she wrote. "Being parted by death is what happens if a marriage works."


One of the voices in my head reminds me that both of the women, both of the widows, nursed their husbands through lingering illnesses and that they must be experiencing, along with paralyzing grief, at least some semblance of relief. Another voice, a staunchly Protestant voice, offers that the women would be feeling joy at the knowledge that their husbands had made the journey to "a better place." But there is a third voice, a soft female voice that starts as a tender trembling in the center of my chest, crescendoes into gasping sobs and contorts itself into words: "But I love him!"

The space inside my head gets very quiet. The other voices hush. How does reason or religion respond to that? How does logic counter love?

The sun emerges over the horizon, a dull yellow disk with blurred edges. The fog has risen like candle smoke and dissipated into the almost-blue sky. I park the car, go into the office, turn on the computer. A bell rings and the screen produces a birthday reminder for a friend. A friend who died two (or was it three?) years ago.

I feel the sadness of his death all over again and, then, unexpectedly, the sadness gives way to something stronger, something purer, something indestructible. The sadness gives way to love. As must everything.

Anger is destructive, but it cannot stand before love. Betrayal is painful, but it cannot stand before love. And the widows whose hands I held will tell you that Death is bitter. But even Death cannot stand before love.

Copyright 2010

1 comment:

Lynn said...

Wow - you captured a lot of emotions.