I am of the opinion that life is going to be painful.
(EDIT: Upon the first re-read, I see that as a ridiculously stupid statement. Of course life is painful. It is nonsense to say that is my ‘opinion’. It is a fact. In spite of the stupidity of the statement, I’m leaving it there and telling you this: What I meant to say was that I am ‘of the mindset’ that life is going to be painful. Which is similar to having an opinion, but different…somehow…. Anyway, let’s get on with what I was attempting to convey here; something about my somewhat fatalistic approach to life…)
I tell myself not to be surprised when challenges come or when ‘bad things’ happen, because life is hard. Things fall apart. People are easily broken, and mostly messy.
That’s not to say that I walk around all doom and gloom; I don’t. I’m generally happy and optimistic and I believe the best about darn nearly everything and everybody. I am often full of joy and mostly content.
But life is life. We are born shrieking, out of pain, and although our trajectory be ragged at times, we are pretty much headed inevitably towards death. So it goes.
I try to keep my expectations realistic. Everybody suffers. I look around and see the pain that friends have endured and understand that there is no comparison, no escape, and no sense in pushing it all away. I consider the hurt I have felt in my own life; I remember. I know that strangers all over the world are suffering in ways I cannot even imagine. The best we can do, mostly, is be present in that reality; to offer aid when we can, and to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.
I finished watching ‘The OA’ tonight; a Netflix series that I found quite compelling, very odd, and strangely beautiful. My viewing stretched out over a couple of months, as I ended up contemplating the story carefully in between episodes. I didn’t think about it a lot, but I thought about it some, and I did some reading about the back story and the creators. The dramatic premise (mad scientist, kidnapped laboratory subjects for his experiments, etc.) was a little much at times, but the exploration of life beyond this one – the ‘afterlife’ – was an interesting bit of imagination. The character development is fascinating and the tale itself is fantastical…and it had me thinking, maybe…just maybe?
It’s fiction; it’s entertainment. But the best creative work does more than occupy an hour or two; artistic endeavors that leave me mulling life and death and people and relationships and eternity – well, that’s the stuff that’s worth my time. ‘The OA’ didn’t change my theology or alter my beliefs about Life and Death, but it certainly made me think about all of the above – along with the power of our imagination and what’s behind – or in front of – a good story.
I also finished a Wallace Stegner book this week; Crossing to Safety drug me back into the 1940’s and thrust me into the life of two couples and their life-long relationship with one another. Those four people became real to me over the course of this novel, in a way that has tucked them into my memory like some long-lost cousins. It’s uncanny, the power of words to make you believe and understand and care about people who are actually fiction. But they live in my head now, in my heart, in my understanding of humanity.
I am thinking about pain and life and death in the context of these two fictional bits of art and entertainment because it happens to be where I sit on this Friday night. My heart is content, with positive input from all directions: Work, spiritual life, future plans, learning, children, husband, family, friends. There is the sweet sense that all, in this particular moment, is well; that sense is deeply satisfying. And yet I know that this sweet spot will not last. This is not the end-all, be-all for life. This is not what I am striving for.
And that’s the thought that strikes me tonight, brought on by the gift of one daughter’s art and inspiration and the heartfelt words of another. I am soaking in the gentle peace of this moment, this Sabbath evening with my son and his friend slipping into sleep on one side of the house, my beloved husband – my person, as I kept telling him last night – snoring gently on the other. The encouraging words of a friend are in my ear from a late afternoon phone call – words that are leading me into a new field of study and a step of faith-filled risk. In this moment, all is well; and all will be well. I say that, all the while confident that there will be pain and loss and darker days around the corner, but I believe life is meant to be looked upon with expectation and hope, fueled by grace and mercy that is not of our making.
Hence, all will be well.
This is a deeply rooted part of my faith, and I have yet to see which comes first – the chicken or the egg? The faith that mercy is true and good and will appear as needed? Or the mercy that exists as sure and solid as granite, giving birth to faith?
Whichever is primary, they are the bones of my life. And it is in that spirit – as much as it is in the strength of my stance as a strong woman, born of a strong woman, grandmothered by a strong woman, mother of three strong women – that I persist.
Life is hard. Nobody owes you anything. You are loved anyway – deeply, madly, surely. Persist.
Life will be painful, and pain-filled. You will mourn. Your heart will ache. Persist.
You will be shushed and silenced; you will meet resistance. Your joints will stiffen and you will be filled with fear. Persist.
You will live; you will die.
For all the moments in between, all the bits and pieces of mercy and grace that will come to you in the open hands and outstretched arms of your brothers and sisters (and yours sons and daughters), persist. For all who will speak healing into your brokenness and comfort to your grief – persist.
And see that all is well, and all will be well.