Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Leak in Time

Yesterday I watched as a long-time friend of the family was laid to rest. The funeral service brought together a holy mixture of the past, present, and future. Memories that had dipped beneath the waters of consciousness bobbed to the surface: watching Nertz and joining in the laughter; shoes caked in clay from a house in construction; feeding snakes, a game of Risk, a fish fry, and a room through a closet; burnt orange pews, roller blades on the parking lot, fellowship dinners, and baptisms at the creek; Nose ring soup at Youth Quake; a pinata at a birthday party. Adventure, joy, grace, and peace.

As memories of the past bobbed up, the promise of the future rained down. Hope tagged itself to the songs, stories, and scriptures shared. And as I gazed out at time-worn faces streaked with tears, I glimpsed, ever so faintly, sparkling in the distance, brighter days.

There was much sorrow and heartache (which is to be expected at a funeral), but there was something I did not expect, an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for love given, love received, love shared, love lost, and love redeemed.

In time, yet out of time. Death, yet life. Now, but not yet. Soon. Easter is coming.

Time is told by death, who doubts it? But time is always halved - for all we know, it is halved - by the blink, the synapse, the immeasurable moment of the present. Time is only the past and maybe the future; the present moment, dividing and connecting them, is eternal. the time of the past is there, somewhat, but only somewhat, to be remembered and examined. We believe that the future is there too, for it keeps arriving, though we know nothing about it. But try to stop the present for your patient scrutiny, or to measure its length with your most advanced chronometer. It exists, so far as I can tell, only as a leak in time, through which, if we are quiet enough, eternity falls upon us and makes its claim. And here I am, an old man, traveling as a child among the dead.
 We measure time by its deaths, yes, and by its births. For time is told also by life. As some depart, others come. The hand opened in farewell remains open in welcome. I, who once had grandparents and parents, now have children and grandchildren. Like the flowing river that is yet always present, time that is always going is always coming. And time that is told by death and birth is held and redeemed by love, which is always present. Time, then, is told by love's losses, and by the coming of love, and by love continuing in gratitude for what is lost. It is folded and enfolded and unfolded forever and ever, the love by which the dead are alive and the unborn welcomed into the womb. The great question for the old and dying, I think, is not if they have loved and been loved enough, but if they have been grateful enough for love received and given, however much. No one who has gratitude is the onliest one. Let us pray to be grateful to the last.

[This exert comes from Wendell Berry's book, Andy Catlett.]