Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Trish #8

It is possible that I experienced the sweetest moment of my life this evening. It happened as my daughters and I surrounded Trish's bed and sang hymns. I could hardly continue singing because I wanted to listen to my children minister to their mother. For they were singing with such a love and tenderness that I can only describe it as a "foretaste of glory divine."

My daughters are strong, like the women of my mountain home. They know how to sing and pray in that certain way that opens the soul. As I listened to them, I kept wondering, "when did they learned to do that?" I heard their mother, their grandmothers and even great grandmother's voices pouring through them. My children's voices were carrying that aching sense of longing that reminds a person that they have a home far away in another world. It is the most piercing, marvelous and mysterious sound one can experience in this life.

My great grandmother had that voice. She was born in the mountains of West Virginia in the 1880's and carried the name Utalka. She was already old when I was a little boy but I was old enough to witness her spirit and her connection to God. I can see her even now, with those long braids hanging down her back. She had eyes that were sunk so deeply into her head that it was almost frightening. They pierced out at whoever she was looking at. And her skin! It was so wrinkled. But every fold of her skin was a glory and a grace. My daughters, born 100 years after her own birth, are her children. Though they live in the desert of the American Southwest, they have mountain souls. Somewhere and somehow, they have learned how to open their souls to God. That's what they did tonight. I don't know when they learned to do this. I don't know if one can learn to do it.

I watched Trish's face began to glow in spite of the agony and weariness of her trial. The tubes in her head and mouth; the bruises on her arms, red and brown from the now countless needles; the indignity of her appearance-- all of this was overcome for those magical moments as my daughters sang so their mother could find her way home. I could almost see her spirit straining to connect, trying to allow their voices to attach to her soul. Like one who is in waters over her head might grab a rope to get pulled to the shore by loved ones, Trish was grasping at the voices of her children.

Trish knows how to follow the voices. She had a grandmother who knew the way home. She knows what it is like to feel on her shoulder the weathered hand of a strong woman who has known wind and rain. She knows what it is like to hear the wail of wisdom pierce the morning air in songs as ancient as the earth. As the chores were getting done and life was being lived, mountain women wove their melodies into my wife's being. Tonight, when Trish heard the voices of her children calling out to God, she knew how to follow them. She knows that sound.

This sounds so weird to people now. To speak of soul and song, of spirit and longing, of wailing and wonder -- how can I possibly expect people make sense of such things? And yet, they are the deepest hungers of the human heart. We are not made to be machines. We are not made to be statistics and categories. We are created for awe. We are created for God. When we forget the way to our soul we lose every reason to live. That is why my children sang to their mother -- to remind her feel for her soul, to open up her being to life and to health. They sang to create a sacred space in which Trish could sense the presence of God. They know if she can do that, she will come home to them.

There are times in life that one cannot do that for himself or herself. In such times, we must have family to do it for us.

Trish and I were both raised in Appalachian families. In that context, "family" does not mean a Dad and Mom, two kids and a great dane. For us, family is a village. When I was a child, the word "family" meant great uncles and great aunts, great-grandfathers and grandmothers, a gazillion cousins and waves and waves of "kin" who identified their blood connection to me by the way the family tree had forked through the generations of its history. Trish and I share that experience of family. We have a people.

In this current trial, Trish and I have heard from "our people." One group sent a quilt, each square meaning something different and each stitch made with prayer. The woman sent the quilt with deep affection, to carry hope to my wife. Many wrote to tell us that their church is praying, or that their family is interceding for us. It is astounding just how vibrant this network of "kin" became within days. I had nearly forgotten how deeply connected we are with so many.

A few years ago, Hillary Clinton wrote a book: It takes a Village (to raise a child). We conservative types tended to ridicule the title of the book and the concept that it represents. We shouldn't have. The concept is right. It is biblical. The individualistic approach to life we have been taking for a long time in our country is poverty stricken and soul-sick. It leaves us exposed. It leaves us unprotected. It leaves us without a people. No amount of church crowds or slick programs can replace not having a people.

This week, Trish has been protected and nursed to health not only by the wonderful hospital staff at St. Josephs -- the nurses, doctors, specialists, therapists, cleaning people, cooks -- all of them -- but by the hundreds of people who love us. The notes, the cards, the gifts, the fervent prayer, the practical help with cleaning our home; cooking for us; people just trying to take up the slack -- we have survived this week because we have a family, a clan, a village. For over a week, we have witnessed the earthly side of the "communion of saints" in action.

Beside Trish's bed are two items -- a cross given to us by Don Montgomery and a little blue bear, sent by the Salvation Army. They represent the people of God in all their variety and variation. They represent all those who surrounded us, who have built a wall to protect and defend us. They represent our kin.

Tonight, two voices rang out from among our people. Those voices collected the hopes and faith of our "kin" in heaven and earth and sang them into the awakening spirit of my wife. Jesus walked into her room on a royal road formed by their song.

The struggle continues. Trish is moving, ever so slightly, her left hand and left foot. By God's grace, the ventilator may be removed tomorrow. We keep moving through this dangerous time, sustained by the voices of God's people. Tonight, two of these voices were those of my own children.

Life really is beautiful.

Blessed be God!

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