“I now know what you have to experience before you die: let me tell you. What you have to experience before you die is a driving rain transformed into light.” –Renee, concierge, main character; The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Several years ago, when teaching Morality and Ethics to twelve year olds, one student asked me what I thought happened when a person dies. Though I recall that the question had little bearing on the topic at hand, it was also clear that hers was not an artfully lobbed “distraction question” so well aimed by Middle School students. She wanted an answer. And one that went beyond, “I don’t know—it’s a mystery.”
The class was silent as I measured my response. “I think we become the fullness of what we have sought all along.” Seeking God? We enter into the fullness of that. Seeking Truth? Same thing. And, yes, some, by choices made, seem to seek emptiness…
That was several years ago. Because of many things that have happened in my life since then, my answer would now be slightly different. It would be shorter. What do I think happens when a person dies? I think we become.
Just about a year ago, and only a month apart, I had the difficult and glorious honor of being with two people in the moment of their deaths. One was my grandfather. He was surrounded in a triangle of love. My mother on one hand. My grandmother on the other…and I held his feet. There is no doubt in my mind that he Became, capital B, as he breathed his last. More than he had ever been, more than we could understand, more than he could have hoped for. The same was true with Nancy, one of my rscj Sisters who I accompanied in her final weeks. She, who had been bound, mute and nearly blind for years, became free.
That is to speak of the final dying. These recent years have me contemplating the dying that happens more often than that.
The dying of my revulsion when helping a woman in the streets of Santiago. A woman covered in flies, scars, and the devastation of a life hard lived. She was “spurned and avoided by people, a [wo]man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom people hide their faces…”
The letting go of my pride when I had to leave Chile early because a torn ligament in my knee prevented offering any kind of physical help to a country reeling from a historic level earthquake.
The letting go of fear, the dying to the hold parts of my history had on me, that happened in the Long Retreat before making Final Vows in January.
Through all of these deaths, and others, deaths and letting go that did not come easily, comfortably, or without sometimes intense pain… deaths that are likely to happen over and over again… I am so very grateful to God for Becoming a little bit more each time.
Becoming a bit more compassionate, a bit more free, a bit more “loose in the molecules,” spacious on the inside…creating room for the “wondrous love this is, oh my soul, oh my soul….”
I wonder if that isn’t the invitation of the Cross we venerate. When we are called as followers of Jesus to take up our own cross, what if that cross were the cross of becoming the fullness of who we are in the eyes and the heart of God? What if the invitation was
Go ahead and let go. Die and become more…. Become more love, receive more love, show more love. Love that seeks and stays and says always and says everywhere and nothing can separate you from me, ever. The complete love that says Do This and Remember me: Follow, serve, be broken open, welcome, accept, lay down your life, take up your cross…
This, though, is the difficult honor of love. To get there sometimes costs dearly…the rending ache of decisions made, the shaking courage of breaking free and facing the unknown, or perhaps, finally facing the truth…and choosing to go forward, arms at the side, straight on and exposed, no cloak of fear or doubt… because we believe that the driving rain of whatever it is that holds us bound will give way.
We believe that death gives way. And Amen for that. If I didn’t believe that, well, I’d find it hard to make any sense of it all whatsoever.
As it is, much does remain a mystery. And, in a lot of ways, thank goodness. Weather prediction only goes so far. The heavens could open at any given moment and we may or may not have an umbrella. And even if we do, it may or may not help. Sometimes, simply put, we get soaked…from the outside in or from the inside out. When that happens, what can we do? We can seek the hospitality of another on the journey with us until the storm passes. We tell the tale of how we ended up where we are, we accept a towel offered in kindness and understanding, and still a bit damp, with soggy bits in a pocket and a squish in the shoe, we head out again because we are called to do so.
But, we are different because of the experience. Life rubs a little differently. With the help of God and the desire to do so, we learn enough, we grow enough, to find strength for letting it happen all over again.
The invitation is to Become… to discover, to reveal… to risk, not to Stay… And the call is to do this not blindly, but aware. Aware of where that love, that obedience to relationship, to authenticity, simplicity, and openness to transformation might lead…will lead… the cross of our salvation.
We have seen in the crucifixion of Jesus the transformation of a driving rain into light. A transformation only possible because of a Great Love. The love of God for a child of God-the love of Jesus for the whole of humanity, collectively and ever so personally-the love of the Spirit that we share among ourselves.
In the large, and the little, and the all…that is our liberation.
In our quotidian letting go and in our ultimate yes, we are loved that much.
So, why not risk?
Why not let go where we are called to let go and Become?