Just a few days ago we visited a friend in hospice care. I recognized the signs: he stood on heaven’s threshhold. Today he crossed over.
Strange, the straddling of two worlds. The one leaving, caught betwixt and between, seeing one and then the other. While those who walk with them weep for the coming reality, yet laugh in the one where we remain. One day last week, I tried to pray for my friend and his wife. I could only feel, tears streaming down my cheeks: Jesus’ grief at Lazarus’ tomb, flowing down through all these centuries. But we laughed with them both when we visited: mundane topics, foolish jokes.
Now, we sit in full onslaught of all these tears, in waves of weeping that came too soon. Eleven months to dismantle a 50-plus year old tent. Eleven months to swing from a sunny hike in open skies to a narrow crack, with room for only one to pass through before a rock-slide cuts it off. The trail closes far too fast. The portal slams shut.
Three times I’ve approached that flaming opening, stood in its heat. Three times I’ve cherished the shell and stroked its last breaths as the fire leaped out, claimed the one I love and left me there: in the ashes, yes, but also surprised by glittering diamonds falling at my feet, purified in the transcendent heat. My heart, too small to contain the jagged sorrow and boundless joy of that sacred moment.
I remember the text I sent last year in those desperate moments as her last breath faded on her pillow: she left. My brother’s confused response: do you mean she died? But death means: “the destruction or permanent end of something.” We were still calling out to her, our choked-out love, as the portal closed, and I know she still heard. She no more ceased to exist than I stopped loving her. I knew in that moment: all her doubts, questions and suffering fell into the chasm as she crossed. Mine, unrefined by the fire, remain. These, the un-healable gash; there is no cure for the one left behind. Even as there is no heart here big enough to hold the holy, glimpsed in those moments.
The portal closed on a man, heart of my heart, my father, more than six years ago. But I swear sometimes he feels closer to me now than when I could see him. As if no longer constrained by being here or there, he is simply with me. Sometimes I wonder if the two worlds are closer than we dream possible. Perhaps they even overlap. I only know that sometimes when I am worshiping at church, I feel him very close, as if we are lifting hands to the same King, standing side by side before the same throne.
When we saw my friend on Friday night, I briefly thought of sending messages with him, as if he was preparing to leave on a trip across the world and I could send letters with him to loved ones over there. But the more travelers I know who cross that chasm, who leap through the portal, the more I know the destination is real and a thousand years is but a day. When at last we hold each other face to face, it will seem we never said good-bye.
As we stand at the portal, we weep while you dance. One day, soon and very, we will dance together.