Dearest Rachel –
Tomorrow, as you know, will be Thanksgiving. A day where we Americans collectively stop and try to remind ourselves how good we have it, and how we should be grateful for all those blessings in life that those of other places and times could only have dreamed of, as well as certain things we have to look forward to, both in this life and the next. There is so much we ought to be celebrating, and we find it hard to do, always asking God, “Yeah, but what have You done for us lately?”
Having just come home from the places where He walked so many years ago, I really have an appreciation for what God, in the form of His Son, went through in order to grant us those future blessings. We never had a right to existence, after all; He could have left the universe as that empty, boring void (and, for a surprisingly large part, He still has – it’s hard to realize just how much empty space there is out there until we start to plumb it). He could also have stopped at any point in creation, and decided, “Yeah, that’s good enough,” and continued to watch things happen on Earth for eons among His virtually mindless creations, without bothering with the likes of mankind and its inherent capacity to screw things up.
But for whatever reason, He decided to move on, and assemble out of the mud of the Earth (rather than just speaking us into existence, like everything else – what does that say about us?) something that somehow resembled Him in some way. Was it the physical appearance? Jesus’ own might suggest so, although perhaps He simply came to us in a form that we could be comfortable with. Or was it the breath that God blew into us that truly made us separate from the brute beasts (albeit with very little more in the way of native intelligence in comparison to Him)? Was that the point at which we obtained a soul, or a spirit, which is the true distinction between us and the rest of creation? In any event, these were not things we deserved, not asked for – nor could we have thought to ask for them. These were all gifts to us, just like every single day.
And, of course, the fact that He did come down here, to obtain a means of reconciling ourselves with Him so that this soul, or spirit, or whatever it is that we have that separates us from the rest of unthinking creation could be reunited with Him after making that first rash, impulsive choice to be masters of our own lives and fates, with virtually no idea what that entailed. And He did so at a time that we would consider so primitive and devoid of creature comforts (and He chose to grow up in a particularly deprived social class, even for that time) that we would never consider being a part of. As Simon Whistler is so fond of saying, “the past was the worst.” We would not subject ourselves to that, and yet, He did.
Let’s also not forget what He went through in those last few days. We’ve touched those thorns, we’ve seen the olive presses – we’ve had a glimpse of both the physical and mental pains and pressures He endured, without even trying to defend Himself (because there was to point in doing so – it would only prolong the plan). What He went through, when none of it would have been necessary if He thought of us as just another animal, in astonishing.
Since then (and even before then!), that intellect He gave us allowed us to come up with so many things to make this present life somewhat more bearable all the time. From making certain necessary tasks easier and more efficient, to recovering and improving health, to just adding pleasure upon pleasure, we as humanity have been able to devise so much – and we as individuals have been able to partake in so much, with the promise of more to come with the gift of each successive day (which, as the old saying goes, is why it’s called ‘the present’). What’s not to thank Him for?
And yet, having also wandered through the desert areas (albeit only for a few minutes and hours, as opposed to entire years – indeed, what amounted to a generation), and climbed through an oasis, we might also have a grasp about the complaints of the Israelite people during those long forty years. Sure, they had walked out from under the lash of Egypt (and, with God’s hand, absolutely devastated the people behind them), but it’s amazing how fast we grew weary with walking and thirst as tourists – imagine doing that for miles every day in a virtually trackless desert for decades. It may be that the machines that we own and use now have rendered us incomparably soft, because we have easier and faster means to travel from the Nile Delta to the Plains of Sharon, but the little tastes of that lifestyle leave us longing for those means within hours, if not minutes. How easy it is to acknowledge that we would be just as cranky and complaining as those people about whom He swore, “They will never enter into My rest”!
It’s that having and having lost that makes the upcoming holiday difficult. I know how much I have, and I’m grateful for it. I know how it compares to the past – even the ‘palace’ of King David seems hardly bigger than an average suburban house, based on the stone foundations, and let’s not get started on the cheek-by-jowl living conditions within such a ‘city.’ I know how it compares to most of the rest of the world – Americans, to an individual, are part of the ‘ten percent,’ if not the ‘one percent,’ in terms of prosperity in comparison to the rest of the world, and our own situation is better than that of the majority of Americans. Not only that, but we both have had a loving, caring family, who raised us well and kept us close to the God who made us and wants us to be with Him forever. We have had so much more than most, especially as I keep meeting so many that never did.
But having had gives one sorrow about what one has no longer. In those moments of thirst and hunger, the Israelites longed for the melons, cucumbers and the ‘fleshpots’ of Egypt. And today, as we pass the milestone marking another month since your departure, I find myself having to acknowledge among the many blessings I’ve been given, the one that was taken away. It makes it just a little bit harder to praise God for what He’s done, even if I understand that I still need to, if for no other reason, the fact that one day, we’ll see each other again, thanks to His provision (and the insane amount of suffering He went through to obtain it).
Among so many of the photographs on my iPhone, I have a couple of them from Thanksgiving Eve services past. In 2019, the year before the pandemic, we stood before the camera, all smiles, holding a chalkboard upon which a single word was written: Time.
We were on the verge of being able to spend as much time as we wanted together – I had just been freed on my work situation, and Daniel was about to graduate from college with his degree in psychology, and we were free to do everything we wanted for as long as we wanted – or so we thought. And we were grateful for it.
And in fairness, the pandemic allowed us to spend all our time together (and without a financial disruption, as our portfolio grew by leaps and bounds in that time), even if it precluded much of the travel we had planned for ourselves. You wept about missing out on the record number – seven, including the MLP ones I usually stayed out of – of conventions we’d hoped to attend throughout the year that were scotched. But we acknowledged that it was a mere delay, and we would have the chance, once a cure was found, and we were free to live our lives again.
Except… well, I don’t need to go over what happened. I mention it far too often already, since it basically defines us and who we are nowadays.
It makes it just that little bit more difficult to count blessings when this singular one has been taken away, with no chance of recovery. I know that complaining about it is pointless – you’re better off (as difficult as that sometimes is to understand; on this side of the veil, we can’t fathom what the good or bad of the next could possibly be like. Even by postulating that it must, almost by definition, exceed both the best and worst, respectively, that humanity on its own could come up with, which is saying quite a bit, it’s virtually impossible to truly visualize), and we’ll join you some day – but what do I do in the meantime?
I wish, too, that I could conclude with something truly positive and uplifting to end this letter with, for the benefit of those who might read this apart from you. But that’s the thing about grief and loss – it takes what was pure happiness and joy and tinges it forever with sadness and melancholy, which can never be extracted from that core memory.
I realize that Joy learned a lesson throughout that movie – that the addition of sadness to a memory gives it a certain additional layer of texture to it, that in some ways makes it easier (or at least, more necessary) to treasure – but I think I’ve had that hammered home enough already. I’d just like to go back there, is all.
I know what I have, and I’m grateful for it all. I also recall what I had, and miss what I don’t; especially on the twenty-third of the month. I’m not sure what I’m going to do or say next Thanksgiving, to be honest.
With all that being said, honey, please keep an eye on me. Make sure I’m keeping busy, and wish me luck. I’m going to need it.