Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong. – Leo Buscaglia
He was tall in the bed and I could see the silver through his eyelids. His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say, ‘I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.'” – Marcus Zusak
Shall we accept good from Him and not trouble? – Job
It has been a week of tears.
Not all tears are bad.
Wednesday’s tears were beautiful. The girls happily ensconced in their dance teachers’ capable hands, I enjoyed a built-in pause in the middle of my day at Tim Horton’s, sipping steeped tea with one of those people who gets me better than most – someone I feel just as comfortable crying with as laughing.
And we laughed.
Then we cried.
How did the world got so much darker than it used to be?
Why do we know so many … stories?
I’m only two years into my thirties, yet I can think of more people than I could possibly count – people I knew, people I loved, people who could have been me – who have been ripped from this earth far sooner than they… should?
(Actually… I’m not sure if I can say that anymore. What is… should?)
But my friend and I aren’t the only ones with these stories.
Tuesday night proved this. Discussion of our latest book club read turned to musing about loss. We all had a hard… episode or two, or three… to tell. Some of us haven’t told it quite yet. One of us was good enough to bring up my story for me so I didn’t have the weight of doing so.
An aside: Telling someone your story can be heavy. You never know how they will react. You never know how shaken up they will be. If I’ve held back my story from anyone, some of them people who probably deserved to know, its because I just couldn’t bear the weight of telling it and then comforting them through it.
So Wednesday my friend and I sat with our coffee, our thoughts, and our tears, awed at the number of people who’ve had life ripped from them so much sooner than we’d expect, fascinated that some pass so well and others so… broken.
Not that any of us are anything but broken.
It’s just that word, we realized, just one word, that made all the difference.
When did this word start to pervade our daily vocabulary? Was it in the 70’s, an era of heartache and prosperity, when our parents decided that their kids should never be without… anything?
I just finished reading The Book Thief. I won’t spoil it for you, because I believe all of you should read it at some point, and several of you have told me that you are about to, but I warn you it is one of the more thought-provoking books I’ve read in the past few years – or ever. I used a lot of Kleenex through this book. I had a lot of tears. Sad tears.
And good tears.
I forgot how great my life is.
I forgot how good I have it.
Those of us who’ve lived most of our lives in peace, those who’ve managed to escape the draft of ’14, the crash of ’29, and the horror of ’39-’43, the confusing war of the late 60’s, those of us who only vaguely remember our parents or grandparents stories about those years,
we forget the gift those parents and grandparents gave us:
the gift of expecting.
Let that sink in for a moment. Those of us in the recent first world, those of us who’ve lived without threat of war or famine or having less than anything we’ve ever wanted,
We get the opportunity to expect things.
Those who’d lived through a World War – or two – didn’t get that luxury.
But in the years of peace since, we’ve over-corrected the suffering our ancestors once saw. We’ve widened the gap between rich and poor. We’ve ignorantly poised ourselves for a class-based system in our fight for more, more, and more for me, me, just me. I’ve earned it. I deserve it.
We say this not only about money. Not only about stuff. Not only about experience or quality of life.
We say that about death – and loss – too.
We shake our head as we lose loved ones here or there. No matter how distant they were to us in life, we feel so close to them in death: They were too young to go. They were cut down in their prime.
Let’s face it – we say these things anytime the world doesn’t give us exactly what we’d expect.
Instead of accepting these shorter – or harder – ends – or moments – as possibilities that any of us could have at any time, instead of lightening our steps on this planet and taking each moment with grace, we’ve started to grab our due – and then some. We tell those with timelines, with prognoses to not go gently into that good night.
We tell them to fight.
And sometimes they need to. But sometimes the fight is for us. We want to feel better. We want to believe that if we just will it so, it will be.We hope that if we just do the right things, eat perfectly, exercise… live well, we will escape tragedy.
It doesn’t work like that.
Of course, if it has worked for you like that, so far at least, then you are free to think so.
But there really is an element of mystery to all bad things that none of us are immune to, no matter how much we’d like to control it.
The only thing we can control is how we receive it.
(Warning to my friends who are not from faith backgrounds: the next part isn’t meant for you. So you may want to skip it. Or not. It might make you laugh.)
The church is not immune to this revolution from gratefulness to expectation. Too many of us from so-called ‘faith’ backgrounds are more likely to exercise our ‘faith’ by demanding a better lot from the One who we believe will keep us from all trouble . This kind of ‘faith’ disturbs more than comforts in affliction, since it feeds the compulsion to waste at least a few phases of catastrophe wondering what we did wrong and why God was so ‘mean’ to us.
Please. My seven-year-old is more mature than that.
No wonder the rest of the world thinks we’re ridiculous.
Confession: I think we’re kind of ridiculous too.
Faith does not grant us a refund on tragedy.
Oh, I believe in miracles, alright. I’ll tell you some till I’m too tired to keep talking (and that takes a long time).
I believe in the unexplained.
But I try not to limit good things to the inexplicable.
Sometimes good things come in small packages. Some of my best things come in little white pills that keep me alive another day, and another, and another.
They give me another moment of victory. Another day I wasn’t promised. Another pleasant surprise.
Of course, sometimes the surprises aren’t so pleasant. The trick is to receive both the good and bad with … grace. Peace.
Yeah. I’m not known for being gentle.
Gentle implies nice. It doesn’t co-exist with conflict.
It implies accepting.
Gentle doesn’t push back, override, or aggravate.
Huh. Yeah. Not really me. (Not yet).
The job I’m ridiculously grateful for has taught me a thing or two about gentleness.
Wait before you laugh. It’s not what you think.
It’s not what I thought either.
In fact, the word so often quoted to us as humble or meek isn’t even remotely summed up by the English word gentle. Part humility, part grace, part ridiculous, courageous trust in Someone or Something so much bigger than the struggle, the meek are merely
those who stubbornly choose to believe that Someone, Something knows that
whatever comes our way
is for our good,
no matter how bad it seems.
And those who can do that… ‘inherit the earth’ – Matthew.
I’m starting to see why. Those who can accept all things in grace – those I’m learning to be more like – walk a little lighter than the rest of us. They are not weighed down by grief. Despite more than adequate reason for being so, they are no Debbie Downers. They live in what they’ve been given. And they smile. They laugh.
They don’t just survive. They thrive. They live light.
At work I see, that in labour, as in life, those who embrace the process with an appropriate amount of surrender do it well.
These gentle ones are no doormats. In fact, doormats may lack a spirit of bravery that the gentle exude in spades.
Rather, these courageous souls swim upstream in a culture of expectation. They refuse to believe they shouldn’t have to work hard or they shouldn’t have anything bad ever happen to them or they’ve already had their fair share of trouble.
(They know nothing here is fair.)
So they gather themselves together and say, slowly, but surely, shall we accept good… and not trouble?
They know heartache is a part of life.
They know they will come out different – better – on the other side.
They know they are never alone.
A new season is upon us. A change – or two, or three – awaits our family. We hardly know if it will be pleasant or painful, but –
We know it will be good.
We know we will be okay.
We know we are not alone.
My friends, if there’s one thing I could wish for us this week, this day, it would be that we could all live like this… lightly. Gracefully. Gently.
The thing is,
I think we can.
So for those of you on the brink of change – who feel fall’s first breeze when you expected spring’s first sun – I say the same thing to you that I say to myself:
Don’t carry that change alone. Don’t tie it to you like a burden.
You will be different.
You will be better.
You will be okay.
Not in spite of it, but
Because of it.