The sacred curtain
There is a sort of unseen sacred curtain that exists in life’s defining moments. Often people are unwilling or simply unable to pull back the curtain. It is uncomfortable. Entering in to someone else’s deepest heart pain requires something unique and visceral. It cannot be contrived. It is impossible to guess what will unfold, after being brave enough to go there. It can be ugly. It can hurt even more. It can make you angry. It may not feel “safe” and for sure it won’t feel comfortable.
Just about exactly six years ago, our life forever changed and we encountered devastating loss. The kind you don’t plan for. The kind that punches you in the stomach and leaves you face down on the floor. The kind that paralyzes and forces life to a complete standstill. Chris’ dad left on a hunting trip as he had countless times. But he never came home. A frozen mountain pond took his life on a bitterly cold Wednesday in January of that year. Chris and a dozen searching ones would look and find him. His beloved hunting dog still sitting point on the shore, waiting for his master to return.
Loss like this takes years to come back from. If ever. I’ve said it before I think, but its rather akin to learning to walk with a limp. Only it’s your heart that limps instead. The impact of living through this kind of thing reaches into every corner of your being and changes you forever. For better or for worse. You decide. You decide your comeback. It is terrifying and beautiful it its’ own right.
Part of the fruit that I see, these years later, is a continually growing willingness to sit with others in places that are hard. When you have been the one to be met and loved in the midst of tragedy, you eventually are able should you choose, to be the one who meets, who loves when others are not able to go there. Last month I had a friend shoved into a life position she did not anticipate or ask for. But there she was. So I sat. Listened. Cried. Loved. Reached hands out across a table and held. Just as seven years ago she had held me when my husband was asked to find a new job and the economy was in the toilet and we had a new baby and life felt absolutely too much to bear. How amazing and stunning is that gift? To get to love back, give back? I had no words for it…just an awestruck grateful heart.
Then it was last Friday and I was buzzing around my kitchen. I was putting food together for a busy weekend and thinking still again of the neighbors just down the hill from here who lost their toddler son the Friday before to the creek that rests between their home and ours. I knew his funeral was that afternoon and I mourned with them even though I did not know their name. There is a comradery that exists between mothers and I felt such pain in my heart for her. As I measured and scooped and cooked, I found myself turning on an extra pot and making another big pot of soup. This would be for her. Unknown mother whose name I knew not, whose loss I could not fathom, whose house I drive past every time I go to town.
I would write her a letter…and this is what it would say:
Dear neighbors who live down the hill…I know we’ve never met you, but we wept with you on Friday when they found your son. I have a daughter the same age as your boy. We cannot begin to fathom your pain. I hope you are overwhelmed by the kindness and love of friends and family. I hope you are held up by people who love you, both known and unknown. I didn’t know what else I could possibly do but make you food. So here is our favorite soup and our phone number. If we can do anything for you, please call.
But the writing would be the easy part. And the making of soup. The not-easy-at-all part was the finding a brave enough heart to actually get in my car and knock on their door. What if 15 strangers had already brought them soup and they wanted to be left alone? What if they had friends and family stopping in all day, each day? Then came a searing thought. What if they don’t? What if everyone is guessing that someone else is making soup and stopping in? So I grabbed my keys and bag of food and packed up the two kids still at home waiting for us to head to church. I drove past the house the first time. Then circled back around and pulled in. He met me at the door before I could knock. I told him I lived up the hill, that I’d made them dinner and looked him in the eye and told him I was so sorry for such a great loss as this. Hands trembling I handed him my love gift over and saw his wife sitting inside. He said thank you and I said goodbye. I got in the car shaking and wept all the way to church.
The curtain had been pulled aside and it was scary and holy and precious. I had come face to face with unspeakable grief so sacred it was almost untouchable. I could hardly speak. Chris held me as I choked out the words in the church parking lot.
There is no guidebook for pain like this, no how-to for facing such tragic loss. But the power of the presence of people and pure kindness offered in the midst of it can sometimes make all the difference in the world. Being brave enough to enter in and dwell with someone who hurts deeply, is one of the great riches of life.