Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - No comments

The Ache That Invites

When I was little, I was way into Care Bears.  I had a stuffed Cheer Bear, the pink one with the rainbow on its belly.  At one point I couldn’t find her, and was much distressed.  After looking and looking, we decided she must have fallen out of the car in the 7-11 parking lot and was gone for good.  And my sweet Mom bought me a new one - identical to the first, though with significantly less matted fur.  And then, a week or so later, we found the original one - and suddenly I had twins.  :)

My temporary separation from my Cheer Bear is my earliest memory of what it feels like to experience a loss, but certainly not my last.  Oh, that healing the ache were as easy as buying another teddy bear!  (Or, better yet, finding her again!)  

Fast forward almost twenty years to a grown-up me, chaperoning a pile of teenaged girls at a youth retreat in Gatlinburg, TN.   On the last morning, I was in charge of rounding up the girls and making sure they hadn’t left anything in their hotel rooms.  All heads and suitcases accounted for, I herded them into the van and we headed for home, completely unaware that my stuffed koala, Theodore - my beloved companion through childhood nightmares and twenty-something world travels - was still lying tangled in my hotel bed sheets.  I can still feel the ache in my stomach when I unpacked my suitcase and realized he was gone.  Phone calls to the hotel yielded no results, and I could only hope that he ended up in the loving arms of some maid’s little girl and not in a trash bag on the side of the curb.  Perhaps it’s because I was an only child, but Theodore was a real friend to me, and the loss of him still makes my heart hurt.

Over the years, numerous other losses have left various-sized holes in my heart.  Some are seemingly trivial things, like the discontinuation of my favourite lipstick - Eva’s Caramel (I’m sparingly making my way through my last two tubes) or the recently-discontinued blue and yellow Staedler pens that I’ve used for every school paper, thank-you note, journal entry and creative musing since I was thirteen.  (They had a perfectly fine point and a hard lid that I could chew on to my heart’s content without risk of those nasty blue bits that get in your teeth when you chew on a Bic pen.  I only have a few left in my stash and wonder how I’ll ever write without them.)

Others are more symbolic - losses felt more because of what they meant than the value of the objects themselves.  Funny text messages from my Turkish uncle - the last few he sent me before he passed away of lung cancer - unknowingly erased by a friend who borrowed my spare phone.  My Akbil (Istanbul transit thingie) - my faithful sidekick through five years of exploring the length and breadth of that great city, gone forever from my keychain when I was forced to exchange it for the “new, improved” Istanbul Card.  The beautiful gold necklace my mom bought me for my thirtieth birthday, stolen from my luggage in a hotel room - worth plenty in and of itself, but even more because of the femininity and grown-up-ness it represented to me.

Two Saturdays ago, I stood crying by the graveside of my dear Grandpa.  He was the last of my grandparents to pass away, leaving a hole in my family that cannot be filled.  Besides the fact that I’ve lost someone I’ve loved my whole life, along with him perish a fisherman’s tall-tales, memories of our city when it was all dirt roads and ditches, and stories of what it was like to court my Grandma.  I’ve got photographs of my first fish caught in his little row boat, trophies from bullhead derbies and grand prix wooden car races, a handcrafted dollhouse in storage in my aunt’s attic, and a lifetime of memories of trips in the motorhome and canasta at the kitchen table.  He will live on in “remember when” conversations with my cousins and the card games and fishing techniques I’ll teach my children.  But I’ll never beat him at Five in a Row or hug his skinny frame or see him tip his cowboy hat as he drives away again.  

Standing in a tight circle around Grandpa’s grave, my family shared memories and thoughts about what he meant to us.  And then, in a fitting farewell, my mom and her sisters set to “twanging.”  This was a favourite tradition at family gatherings - all of us females gathered around Grandpa at the piano, singing the oldies - Grandpa’s fingers flying and a particular aunt’s nostrils flaring, my cousin Jen and I joining in with the lyrics we could remember.  This final tribute of “Are You Mine?” and “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” had us dissolving alternately into laughter and tears, one sister carrying on while another’s voice wavered, all of us feeling the absence of our beloved piano player, yet smiling at the memories of him that will stay with us forever.

Some losses come by choice - the favourite childhood toy wistfully sold at a garage sale or the relationship lost through a wise but painful break-up.  Others that come against our will - the pink slip presented with a mumbled apology, the photo albums lost in a fire, the picked lock accompanied by the missing family jewelry, the car accident that takes the life of a friend - leave us decidedly more bereft.  Along with people and possessions, we grieve the loss of the sense of security, familiarity, and intimacy they brought to our lives.  And we’re left with sepia-toned memories and crackly recordings that, while comforting, can never quite replace the flesh-and-blood versions of the ones we miss.

As all these losses have been rattling around in my heart, so has a thought that underscores them all, made all the more clear with the most recent loss of my Grandpa:  we were never meant to cling tightly to this life, this world, or all its shiny trappings.  All the love, the joy, the aliveness we experience here on earth are only a shadow - a reflection of the eternal.  Clasp our fingers around our treasures as we may, they were never meant to fill our hands or our hearts.  All the loving, the cherishing, the holding dear that we do in this life are meant to leave us wanting more.  That incompleteness, that almost-but-not-quite-ness, the itching and the wanting are gifts that invites us to point our desire higher to the One who fills us to overflowing and the Home where we are meant to dwell forever.  

Each loss, painful as it is at the time, is a chance to wrap my arms tighter around the one permanent Love in my life and rest my soul in the knowledge that my place with Him is secure.  All the missing and aching I do on this earth causes my heart to long all the more for the day when I’ll be united with my true Love in my true Home, and never have to say goodbye.  

I think of all the hurt and hardship my Grandpa experienced in his lifetime, and I know he’s finally tasting of the life that was always just out of reach.  I marvel at the thought of the One he just barely knew here on earth now wiping every tear from his eyes and showering him with the abundant love and overwhelming joy that are his for all eternity.  He has met Love Himself, and he has forever to get to know Him.

I have a feeling twanging together around the Throne is going to be a whole new level of amazing.  :)