My mom-in-law died very early Sunday morning. She had been sick with lung cancer and all the sordid complications, pains and harrassments that come with the disease. When diagnosed in July 2013, the doctors guessed she might have 5 months. She lived 9. Eight of those months were pretty good.
When my family realized how short our time together was going to be, we learned how to be very honest with ourselves and each other. If we needed something, we learned how to ask. If we wanted something done, we did it with little delay. We cried and worried a lot at first, but soon found ourselves laughing as much as we were crying and then laughing more often than crying.
When we hurt feelings, we quickly apologized. We said I love you more often and practiced patience and humility when foundering in painful or embarrassing situations.
My mom-in-law had been sick and, when she died, was about to be become even sicker. Her passing was a strange kind of mercy.
If you listen, life carries strange echoes.
I was away from home the day my wife’s mom got the first diagnosis. My wife called, and I drove home as quickly as I could.
I was away from home the day my wife got the call that her mom had suffered a sudden, unexpected brain hemorrhage. She called, and I drove home as quickly as I could.
Both of those drives were the most awful miles. Having had my wife’s voice with all of her pain and grief in my ear, I felt right there with her and yet, I had to cross 150 miles of interstate to be with her. I often live divorced from the realities of time and distance. Feeling both between us made me afraid and bit frantic.
And yet, both of those awful drives were a kind of mindful meditation. Both times, I was pressed forward by two inescapable realizations.
Everything we build, develop or make with our own efforts and our own energies is temporary. No matter how important or useful or beautiful, everything we call our life is temporary. This is terrifying, but it is also comforting.
Being temporary and recognizing our temporariness frees us to understand a greater truth. We are not here for ourselves. Our lives do not really belong to us.
It doesn’t matter what church you go to or which way you say your prayers. We are here for one reason. All of us. We are here to help each other be brave in the face of our own individual temporariness. We are here to comfort, to encourage and to remind each other to practice our lives with openness. There is always sadness. There is always fear. There is always discouragement.
Uncertainty is not an aberrant state. Uncertainty cannot be avoided. Uncertainty is our lives. We can help each other work with uncertainty so that it is not a source of fear or pain.
There is beauty and confidence and assurance waiting in uncertainty. We are here to remind each other and to help each other practice remembering.