A couple of days ago, I stood by the bedside of a friend who was dying. As his sister whispered a litany of thanksgiving for his life and gently reminded him of all that he did and all that he was, his wife of almost 50 years stroked his forehead.
Dean was breathing intermittently and open-mouthed, a sign of impending death. I took note of his labored breathing and began to think, “How similar is death to birth...both seem ‘labored’ and each is transitional…”
We leave the comfort of what we know to move into something unknown. It is the entire pattern of our existence. The only predictability is that it will happen. No one who is on earth has escaped being born, and no one will escape leaving this earth. It is inevitable.
Even the seasons mimic this. Every year we know what is coming, even with the threat of global warming. In southeast Michigan, we know that we will have four seasons. Sometimes one will be longer than another, but we always know the sequence, and it is a comfort to us.
Thirty years ago, my husband, children and I lived in Southern California. There were seasons there as well: what I called the “clear sky season,” the rainy season (that unfortunately displayed the after-effects of the prior hot and fiery season by giving us mudslides) , the hot and windy season (which culminated in the fires that took trees and wildlife and sometimes homes), and the return of the clear sky season. (In Michigan, I call these "California days," when they happen!)
There were times when I wished for all clear sky days in California, just like I sometimes wish that fall in Michigan would just stay. I do take some comfort, however, in the fact that yardwork will end, that I will be able to stay indoors and look out on the cold and bluster and remain snugly attended to by a hot cup of tea and a fireplace.
I used to believe that comfort came from sameness. I now believe that comfort can come in knowing that everything will once again cycle around. Whether it is birth and death, the seasons or simply my own internal view of reality, I know that “what goes up, must come down,” (at least on the earth with our gravity!) If I miss something the first time around, it will come back to me--maybe not in exactly the same way, but enough so that I will recognize it as another opportunity to grow.
This morning, at an early breakfast with friends, I made a remark that was something like, “We are always being gifted with the opportunity to open ourselves up wider to the work of the Holy Spirit. We continue to sin and to ‘fall short.” There is always more room for growing deeper.”
And so, even in my relationship with God, I sense a cycle of predictability: I grow close; I savor this closeness; I drift, as we humans are ‘bent’ to do; I am challenged; I grow thirsty for closeness; I am drawn in; I grow closer.
I thank God for all cycles. They are comforting. They remind me that all things come around. As chaotic as life can be, I can be assured that it is moving a predictable direction. In the middle of a flood, as we recently experienced, we know that it will not last forever and that its consequences, though seemingly endless, will be finished. Winter will come and spring will follow. Nothing has yet stopped the cycle. There is always hope and expectation.