I walk the dogs down the road first thing. The moon hugs earth shine, the sun an orange glow on the horizon, the sky smoky, stars fading. I’m not much for dark starts to the day, but the dogs insist. I see golden rod and black eyed susans, stop when the dogs stop. I am grateful to be alive in this body, on this day, walking this road back to our farm. I feel the warmth in my body, the cool of the air in my lungs. I hear my footsteps on gravel. Later the horses will neigh in greeting: Morgen like rolling thunder, Tessie like a bell. I give thanks to God for letting me live another day.
I am afraid of dying, with a high whine of fear that drives me to dissatisfaction with how I’m living my life, though God calls me to rest—emotionally, physically. That rest theme runs through the whole Bible from Genesis where God Himself rested from His work, the Exodus where God calls his people to enter the Promised Land, to enter his rest, to Jesus own words, “I will give you rest.” As a young girl I stumbled into Hebrews 4 where the writer says, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” and my carrying the burden of being good/doing good began to ease, in just a whisper.
I turned sixty last year, retired at 59, and feel the weight of an age I never thought I’d be. When I was a young girl there was romance in dying young, dying in your prime. We cried over Love Story and A Severe Mercy, both stories of a person’s marriage cut short because a partner died way too young. Because the world was so volatile when I was a girl—people talked about the threat of nuclear annilihation or the Second Coming. Our cities burned with protest. Children were shot by the National Guard—I used to hope like mad there would be enough time left to get married. There was.
One day in particular I sat on my horse watching sun shafts break through the clouds. I longed for Jesus to come again. I was ready to be done with this earth, and I lived on a most beautiful farm, a mile in from the main road. I was old at fourteen. Dying did not scare me.
When my mother and father and brother died, I felt in my bones, that death was dead. That their funerals felt more like weddings than funerals. That somehow time bent around and they were being called out of their graves, right then, right there. Most of my childhood I grieved my parents’ dying, terrified of living life without them in it, but when they died, there was this Presence, this knowing that was like a clenched fist raised in protest against the powers of darkness. And yes, I grieved for many years and look toward a reunion.
I havebrushed up against what felt like serious illness, several times. When the doctor said he’d never seen a tumor like the one in my colon, I spent the few weeks until my surgery thinking about dying, wondering if the tumor was the Big C, if it would kill me. It didn’t. I have had a uterine tumor. Again the wait made me think a little more about my mortality since my namesake aunt died in her forties of ovarian cancer. Then there was the year I thought I had MS, with twenty lesions on my brain, that make me think about dementia, about how I’m not as smart as I used to be. And the yearly visits to the Swedish American Cancer Center to make sure the Tamoxifen isn’t poisoning me because I had cells sure to become cancer if we hadn’t caught them.
My mother died at 60. Forty years ago that wasn’t young, but it is nowadays. I feel better than I have ever felt before. But still her death at this age hangs over me. When I told a friend this, she looked horrified because of how the power of suggestion works. Another friend said her husband was haunted the same way with his parents’ early deaths.
In a few weeks I’ll turn 61 and have survived my 60th year. In some ways I have felt younger and healthier at 60 than I did at 13 or 25 or 36 or 45. I feel that I was old as a five year old and have grown younger and more full of life as I’ve aged. Losing my family in my early thirties set me up for decades of grief. Even now, it bites when a friend says family comes first, because I have no one aside from Bruce.
Please don’t tell me about the comforts of eternity, that we get to live forever, because when I consider the vastness of the universe I get very tired and not a little frightened. I’m not so sure living forever is such a comforting thing. And I wonder if the English translation for eternity has been taken wrong all these years. Even a light year is a time and a speed that is unfathomable.
Philip Pullam in his Dark Materials trilogy talks about how Lyra releases the Dead by opening a portal from that world into another. The people return to their bodies for an instant, then go poof and are dissolved with a look of relief and joy on their faces. There’s something comforting about the sleep of oblivion. Benjamin Corey has said that oblivion is how he thinks God will handle the unrepentant wicked instead of burning, eternal torment. Eternity feels like the half life he describes in the land of the dead where people have no bodies. They continue but they are faded.
On the other hand, the Star Trek franchise gives me hope that there might be some amazing adventures and cultures to discover when the Kingdom comes. And the Bible says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard what the Father has in store for us.” Whatever waits on the other side is good, as good as the wide world we live in, the trees, the animals, the stars, the waters.
Eternal life begins now. The Kingdom of heaven is here. Now. That grain of mustard seed spreading until it grows into a giant tree. Despite what we see in the media, researchers say that both violence and poverty are reduced from where they were forty years ago. That Kingdom is spreading, slinking along like a vine that won’t quit, curling around the thing that wants chaos, and not the good, creative kind, but the break us apart kind, binding it.
I suppose I’m doing what the Psalmist tells us to do: teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. Maybe so, but all I feel is a sense that I’m wasting each and every day, that I’m not getting my days right no matter what I do.
The horses wait for me in the paddock. Morgen stands at the gate and neighs long and hard. They are so full of life and opinion and love for me I wince like people did when God rumbled around Mount Sinai. Too many sunny days and I long for rain so I don’t have to feel guilty for writing or curling up with a book. I am an inside girl but the horses call me to my body, call me to the outdoors, call me to silence but for the sound of my steps, and birds, and manure dropping into the muck bucket.
And I’m tired. Spent. And feeling driven to take it all in before my time in this body on this farm ends. The only antidote that I can think of is thanks: for being in this body, for walking this road, for taking care of these animals. And trust in the one whose Presence has been so real, who promises that I will see Him face to face. Now that will be a reunion. I look forward to finally being cleaned up, dressed up, shining, even if that means walking through a wall of purifying flame. But if eternal life isn’t what we’ve made it out to be, that will do as well.