04 | let us be good to one another

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My mom died on May 7th, 2014. Monday marked four years. I often get the urge to go visit her grave, but being that it is 40 minutes away, I usually talk myself out of it. Traffic, you know? But yesterday, we went. Dad, Grandmama, and I went to see Mom. And just like every time since the burial, I expected to feel something, but I just... didn't. It feels so detached. It's just her name on the ground. I might as well be looking at any of the other hundreds surrounding hers. I did, actually. And felt about the same looking at their names. I spent a few minutes judging headstones like outfits. Any excuse to feel superior, I guess. Don't get me wrong, it hurts. But knowing that her body is down below my feet just doesn't seem real. It could just as easily be the bones of King Tut himself in my mind. 

I ate two macarons from the French restaurant Mom loved and imagined sharing them with her. Well, I imagined her having two as well, so we didn't have to share. That's usually how it went with things like macarons or donuts. I think she'd really like the lavender one that's my favorite. I think she'd speak with a little French accent to me after the woman behind the counter said "Merci, au revoir." We'd have a good little giggle. If she had been with us at the gravesite (I know, I know, bear with me), she probably would've said something about the humidity and definitely would have been sneezing the whole time due to allergies. She'd pull out one of hundreds of half-used tissues from her purse or pockets. She'd have big sunglasses on, a red-orange sleeveless shirt, white pleated shorts, a festive, colorful belt, and some sandals. Lots of clinking bracelets and bangles, a watch, dangley earrings. Maybe a big necklace. Big rings. Always with the big rings. She'd stand beside me and put one arm around me and hug me real tight while telling me she loves me. I'd probably make a joke that would make her look at me with her patented "I shouldn't be laughing because that was inappropriate but it was pretty funny" look, like when I (JOKINGLY) asked for a margarita at home one time before I turned 21. If it weren't a gravesite, she probably would have made us all take a picture together. She and Grandmama would've talked about "the monument" in small-town Alabama where a lot of my family is from. We would've talked about old relatives who have now passed on. All the funny stories, all the sad ones, all the tales that would rival a Faulkner novel with their southern gothic, twisted darkness. Those kind of stories exist, boys and girls.

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But she didn't do any of that. She's still down below in a casket covered by a concrete slab and dirt and grass. So we stood there, Dad, Grandmama, and I, looking at the headstone. Dad made a joke about the HEADstone. We cleared off branches and dirt so you could see her name and the marble trim. We looked into the woods behind the gravesite. We sat on someone else's memorial bench, just as Mom suggested. We looked at all of the Bible verses on the headstone and Dad talked about the significance of each one and their placement. I thought about her drinking coffee on the back porch, reading her Bible every morning. I thought about the voicemails I still have saved so I can hear her voice again. Grandmama said, "It's not too long before the rest of us will be up there with you, Laura. We'll see you soon. Have a place ready for us." We talked about how time seems so slow and agonizing here between her death and now and when we can finally join her, and how she's in a place that's free of time. All of this looks different to her. She's not waiting around for us like we're waiting to join her. For her it will feel like no time at all. For us it feels, ironically, like an eternity before we'll see her bright, beautiful, shining face in front of us again. 

I found a picture this morning that she had taken on her phone not long before she died. It was a picture of herself, smiling, with no hair. Calling it a selfie seems so wrong on so many levels, so we'll go with self-portrait. She looks out of proportion. She looks not right. Because she wasn't right. May 7th told us that.

I've heard of people who have dreams of their deceased loved ones where they come back long enough to leave them with some peace and comfort, some final words that couldn't be breathed in their lifetime. In all the dreams I've had of her since she died, she's disappointed in me, or annoyed with me, or angry at me. I won't get into the psychology of that right now. But Monday night before I went to sleep I begged God for a dream like that. I pleaded with Him that He would send my mama down to me one more time to love on me and say something to me. Anything. But that dream, that reach from the beyond, didn't happen. I woke up yesterday, and today, stuck in the same pattern I carry out each day.

It would be hard to reckon with that, with God's seeming distance, his holding me away at arm's length, except for C.S. Lewis. Most days I remember this little passage from The Magician's Nephew from The Chronicles of Narnia

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Up till then he had been looking at the Lion's great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. "My son, my son," said Aslan. "I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”

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I'm reminded by that and recently by a friend that God cries with us. Our pain is His pain. I can't say why He allows things to happen, but I take comfort in knowing that as much as I ache, He does even more.

Further Up and Further In

The other day I finished reading the Chronicles of Narnia series. I read the whole thing beginning to end over the past six months and never in my life have I ever been so taken with a fictional idea or place. As silly as it sounds, I have been yearning for the mountains, the sea, the hills, the forests. I want to dance around the fire to the beat of the dwarfs' drums with the satyrs and the fauns. I want to feel the spirits of the trees and trade verses with the horses, eagles, badgers, foxes, beavers, sparrows, rabbits, and mice. I want to go on adventures with Peter, Edmund, Lucy, (NOT Susan), Eustace, Jill, Digory, and Polly. I want to feel the warm breath of the Great Lion and hear his voice. I want to meet the kings and queens that sit enthroned at Cair Paravel and feast with them, overlooking the Eastern Sea where mermaids and fish and dolphins jump out of the water and rejoice. Can you imagine? The joy, the adventure, the warmth of the fire in the beavers' dam, the chill of the snow, the tickle of the breeze. 

I found this in a castle on the southern coast of Devon, England, and stood in front of it, waiting for Narnia to appear on the other side for longer than is probably appropriate for an adult.

I found this in a castle on the southern coast of Devon, England, and stood in front of it, waiting for Narnia to appear on the other side for longer than is probably appropriate for an adult.

I get very caught up in the words of C.S. Lewis. Each one drips with magic and thoughtfulness and wonder. The lands he describes and the emotions and textures. I can imagine no place more wonderful than the world he created. Since I was a child and read these books and heard the stories, I knew that it was all an allegory for the creation of the world, the sacrifice of Jesus, the relationship of God with His people, but reading these books as an adult is an even richer experience than I could have anticipated. As I've had to depend more and more on Jesus and His righteousness, the beauty of THAT story, of Jesus and me, has become more beautiful and believable, just like Narnia to each of the children that stumble upon it. Reading the last few pages of The Last Battle and hearing the description of each part of Narnia and the journey further up and further in as each inside is bigger than its outside, gave me so much hope, but also so much heartbreak. I mourn the reality of the fallen world. We should have been that beautiful Narnia, but we're not. We should feel no pain, but we do. I do. And as hard as that is to swallow, regardless of Narnia, it becomes so sweet at the same time. Each character wished to leave Narnia at one point, and eventually they all do. Each one had to sweat, worry, bleed, cry, fight, climb, crawl, stumble, hide, run, swim, and work before their task was done and the sweet breath of Aslan wrapped around them in perfect approval, forgiveness, and love. And even as they went back to their own world, thinking they'd never return again to the exceedingly beautiful world they so loved, there was gratitude for the grunting, sweating, crying, and worrying. Each of those things taught them something they did not yet know about themselves. EUSTACE. Can you imagine a more horrid child? And by the end, you just want to wrap your arms around him, kiss his forehead, and say "Well done, mate." And glory be, GLORY BE! Aslan works perfectly and deliberately until finally he can call each good and righteous Narnian- native or not- home to their proper place next to him as the world darkens. All hope is threatened to be overtaken too, until you move further up and further in.

Further up and further in. Is there a better call in all this world, all this life, than to move further up and further in? I don't know if you know this, but Narnia is Heaven. It's Heaven, y'all, the real one. It beckons and receives absolutely and perfectly. There is a lot of worry, blood, sweat, crying, stumbling, rejoicing, mourning, playing, dancing, and celebrating that comes first, but in the end, all the characters who Aslan smiles upon and blesses with a big Lion kiss are brought further up and further in. Each new layer to the world that has been perfected is better and richer than the last. There is no mourning or crying, except maybe joyful crying. And that's what we're bound for, you and me, when we feel Aslan's pull away from the world we thought was our own, only to find out that there's another one waiting for us. "‘Glory be!’ said the Cabby. ‘I’d ha’ been a better man all my life if I’d known there were things like this.’" Indeed, dear Cabby, indeed.

But what makes this so disheartening is the waiting. I know there's a Narnia out there. I know this world, our world, will one day be redeemed. I know that like King Caspian I may die hundreds of years before that happens, or like Jill and Eustace I'll be there when it does, more alive than could be (more or less). But does that make the waiting any easier? Not for me. Is there anything I want more than redemption of this wretched world? I don't think there is. I want freedom, courage, bliss, joy, kinship, friendship, love, all boundless and timeless. But I have to wait. And I have to believe that there is hope in a new Narnia and there is hope in a new Earth, if only we have the patience, courage, faith, and pluck to make it until then. I doubt my possession of those things quite often, but I'm reminded that I don't have to get up every day and work until sundown to make sure by the end of the day I can lift the robes of righteousness and wrap them around me. I must believe that they are always on me, head to toe, covering the blood, sweat, worry, tears, scrapes, scabs, panic, and doubt that are nullified by Jesus. By Aslan. By the Perfect One. The Ever-present One. The Alpha and the Omega. The Beginning, and most certainly the End, and everything in between. 

And here's what I imagine Cair Paravel to be.

And here's what I imagine Cair Paravel to be.