As the tail of the historic Hurricane Sandy moved along, I grabbed a magazine and lit the chiminea outside to get warm, half pretense (like, yeah, this is normal,) half proactive. As the flames danced along the paper that covered the firestarter and licked at the pieces of oak, it occurred to me that the enormous oak tree that I loved, and my young sons climbed, had split in Hurricane Irene last year and was now relieving my endless chill after Hurricane Sandy.
As I pondered the circle of life, my cell phone rang. I had a few bars for a change. Between sobs, Joni said that her brother-in-law, my lifelong friend Carol's husband, Steven, died suddenly.
Yesterday we attended Steven's funeral where three of his four young children: Geena, Katie and Steven read letters that they'd written to him, articulating their emotions of fear without the man who worked hard, but always made time to share their triumphs and listen to their concerns. They described their father who put others before himself, and we wept as they expressed their longing to see his face, to hold him and to meet him in Heaven.
The pastor spoke about each of us being prepared to leave this world, because it can happen in the snap of the fingers. He asked if we were ready, as in: "Will each of you make it home in the noreaster?" (I heard that question through every shocking SUV splash of slush that covered our windshield on the four-hour drive in the blinding snow, especially as our car crept across the Verezzano Bridge, froze in gridlock and skirted around a downed tree on the parkway.) The pressing question was: You ready? You got God?
A few people said afterwards that the homily was too long and that they did not appreciate being creeped out while they pondered their present suffering.
I toggled between two auto-responses and felt a little confused by the usual inner-controversy.
You got God?
People don't 'get' God. God seeks them.
You're getting technical. Got God?
Yes, so shut up already.
So why are you so uncomfortable?
My head's spinning, all right?
As a negative thinker in recovery, I wondered about hope as I watched Carol huddle with her four children while clouds gathered overhead for the gentler menace of a noreaster that triggered a fresh round of evacuations, downed trees and power failures. I concluded that while the pastor may have stirred a pot, there was a greater, more comforting sermon in the letters read by Carol and her children. They made us think about love, the sorrow of loss, and the love of God, They spoke as honest and sweet-hearted as I have ever heard, and we were privileged to overhear them speak to their father about their love for him and the torch of faith that remained to help them through their lives.
It was heart-warming, while at the same time heart wrenching, like experiencing your first love on board the Titanic. How comfortable would it be to hear the captain on that ship say: "Don't worry, folks, we are on our way to a better place."? How many passengers would have jumped out of the lifeboats and back onto the ship?
Human beings are born to be alive, but we are given pause in the storms of life that included the loss of Dad, and our friend, Steven, to review our belief in what happens from here. So here goes mine...
In all of the stories I'd read, Jesus' presence was healing, his love restorative. He saw through surface distractions and fronts and into the heart, and people were not afraid, because he was a gentle, loving truthteller. He did not avoid or scare societal outcasts; instead, he sought them out. He broke bread with them. He did not show them how bad they were, but rather how good he is, and that is what I believe moves the needle on the compass and changes the course of my life: who He is, not who I am.
From my favorite movie, Princess Bride: "We are but poor, lost circus performers." But God help me to be the best lost circus performer I can be... until the road leads back Home.