Thursday, October 27, 2005

we only see in part

We Only See in Part

A short while ago, we came home from a nice dinner with some friends. Upon arriving, Heather checked our phone messages. I proceeded upstairs to get the kids started on their pre-bedtime rituals. About a minute later, Heather gave me some sad news: “Carolyn’s father just died.”

Much could be said about Carolyn. She possesses a wealth of ministry experience, she holds a doctorate in the field of psychology, and she used to work full time in the nursing profession. But attempting to describe Carolyn in this way would be like trying to explain the beauty of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in purely mathematical terms. In doing as such you’d be missing the heart of the matter.

No, I’m afraid the best way to give you a grasp on what makes Carolyn tick is to describe her with the same terms she uses to describe herself: Carolyn is a child of God, a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a daughter.

To this last description one could rightly add that Carolyn was a devoted and loving daughter. So, when Heather reported to me that Carolyn’s father died, I truly felt for her.

I never met Carolyn’s father but I feel like I have, because Carolyn talked about him often. 95 years old, his mind was still laser sharp. Even in his “older years” he built (from scratch) a tractor powered by steam. I believe as I write this that that tractor is still in functional capacity.

Like most intelligent people, he had his idiosyncrasies. A few examples come to mind. First, he had an uncanny knowledge of mechanic specifications for farming implements. Second, he adopted rather unusual measures in organizing his wares, which brings me to…Third, he had a penchant for hoarding items that the majority of the human race would deem “garbage”. In other words, he was fond of what one would call “pack-ratting.”

But, taken as a whole, he was a dear, intelligent man. And a Christian. When he was just a boy, he had the misfortune of coming to faith in the midst of an environment one could only describe as “stifling.” In his day, apparently the statement “The Clothes Make the Man” was really true. Upon his conversion, the community of faith surrounding him immediately looked for some kind of outward proof of his claim. You see: this particular church had a dress code (“plain” clothes only). To don “fancy” dress was just not Christian. Well…he did. And the “real” Christians didn’t like it. So, they told him he had to dress like them in order to prove he was a “real” Christian. In the face of such opposition (and taking into account his infancy in the faith at the time), it’s a wonder he was still a devout believer at age 95.

In the end, it was difficult for his children to decide whether he should remain in his home or move to a residential care facility. On the one hand, his home seemed to provide him with a kind of motivation to stay strong and keep on living. On the other hand, it was clear that he needed more focused attention, in light of his waning health.

So, Carolyn made the trip across an ocean to help him adjust to his new living arrangement. Days later, she wept as she recalled the unequivocal blessing he pronounced on her missionary career during that visit. It meant everything to her to hear him express genuine pride in the life-work she had chosen long ago.

By the time she packed her bags again to rejoin her husband in Spain, Carolyn had the distinct feeling that her father would actually do quite well in his new residence. It seemed his energy did not take the dip they had previously expected. Rather, he seemed to be quite well-adjusted to his new surroundings.

But then, a short while after returning to Spain, Carolyn received word that her father’s health had failed rather significantly. But he did not die. He only fainted.

Discussions ensued as to the advisability of installing a pacemaker. Concerns were expressed that family members did not want to artificially and aggressively prolong his life. After much thought, the device was implanted.

Days later, workers at the care facility were weighing him. He complained mildly in the middle of the process that he was tired. They laid him down on the bed nearby. Then, he fell asleep and died quietly.

A few days before he died, Carolyn showed me an old picture. Black and white, a little girl lay with a man in his prime. Both had their eyes closed. They were dozing lazily on a hammock, surrounded by grass, trees and fresh sun. To me, the image represented Elysium. The hammock became God’s hand, the grass His bosom, her dad His heart. One could only assume a faint wind was blowing at the time. I imagine the hammock swayed rhythmically, while the leaves snapped their fingers and each blade of grass bowed its slender body in worshipful trust.

As I gazed at the photograph, the little girl, now grown, let me in on a little secret: it looked like they were sleeping in the photograph, but (she told me) they were just pretending. He was actually playing a game. Perhaps, just after the camera shutter opened and closed to capture a blissful moment, the little girl giggled in mischief.

And today, he is laid to rest. It would appear that he is sleeping. But, truly, he is only pretending. In fact, he is more awake now than he has ever been. He’s most likely playing a game of peekaboo, swinging in fields of gold while the Wind sings.

Meanwhile, the little girl cries.

look little girl
crack your eye

steal a glance
see his smile

play a tune
of peekaboo
to see Who
lies with whom.

look little girl
crack your eye

steal a glance
see (H)him smile

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