The Glorious Debris

“There was no way to go back, to make it stay. There was never that.”

Cheryl Strayed, “Wild”

“You’ll be fine,” my beloved would say.

“It will be the end of the world,” I would reply.

Then silence would settle in again. We would simply go on.

How many times did we say those very words over the last years once his body was clearly losing its strength and vitality? It became our way of whispering the inevitable, the impossible. Some day. Just not today.

The impossible did arrive eight years ago, December 3rd, shortly after midnight. In just five days, this poor, thin body with the heart of a warrior faded away, in a place that was not home.

“You’ll be fine.”

“But it’s the end of the world.”

They would both be true.

Each year’s anniversary has been different. There is no such thing as finding a common thread. Each year, the end of the world changes, and yet I am also fine in new ways.

In the beginning, a woman older than my 72 years came to me in church and pressed a small, wrapped package into my hands. She held her hand there, looked up at me and quietly said, “You have joined the family that none of us wanted to join. And it will be hard. But the sisters will take care of you.” In the package was a beautiful lace angel. I bring it out every year now.

A few weeks later, on a Sunday when I had preached, another woman with pure white hair looked up at me as she took my hand after worship and softly said, “My husband died two years ago.” Our eyes locked, and we knew. One of the sisters was taking care of me and would do just that until dementia forced her to moved away.

Those of us who have suffered the same kinds of great loss, most deeply and intuitively understand what we are experiencing. There is a quiet and sustaining comfort in that. The sisters and some brothers, too, have been a big part of why I have often been able to say “I am fine.” Even when I sometimes lose my footing.

“Everyone of us is called upon, perhaps many times, to start a new life…And onward full-tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another – that is surely basic instinct…Crying out: High tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.”

Barbara Kingsolver, excerpt from “High Tide in Tucson”

Dwight believed in me more than I believed in myself. He always cheered me on. So every year, when faced with the world coming to an end again, I make a promise to him: I promise that I will make him proud of me.

Each of the past 8 years has been a new beginning. A chance to be absurdly resolute, to “…make good on a new shore.” To wade through some more of that “glorious debris” I haven’t seen before.

Last year on this day, lying in a hospital bed, my immune system crashed, I was crawling my way back to going home. A recovery from cancer still lay ahead. The new shore would not look the same as the old one. It never does, of course. I would have to build a new world on my own again.

And I had a promise to fulfill. To make my beloved proud of me.

This year, I have promised him that I will take the terrifying step of writing something good enough to submit for publication somewhere and to figure out where the heck to send it.

I hear his voice, urging me on: “Do it! You have to do it!”

“It could be the end of the world,” I’ll say.

“You’ll be fine,” he’ll say.

I’ll hear my own voice whispering, “Okay. If you think so…”

Of course, it will be what it will be. And I will be fine. Again. Amidst this year’s glorious debris.

And I’m okay with that.