I had not expected to be making a trip back to the old West Virginia farmhouse where I grew up so soon – but here I was taking the familiar route along sparsely populated roads back to my hometown on the western edge of the state. It is the height of summer and my poor AC labored to keep up with the heat as I drove. I mulled over the reason for this visit as I watched the road wind in front of me – probably one of the last ones I would ever make. I thought it fitting that I should be listening to the audio book version of “The Last Battle” by C.S. Lewis.
I have always been a big fan of the Narnian Chronicles, but I don’t remember ever really liking “The Last Battle” much as a kid. It is largely a story about endings and closure… even of Narnia itself. As a child, when your life is just beginning, I think it is hard to grasp the significance of landmark endings in our lives which mark the closing of one chapter and hints at the opening of another chapter not yet begun.
In the space between though there is a pause. As we face the closing of one way of life and before a new way is open to us, there is an opportunity to take a moment before rushing on. To dwell in the space of stillness and grieve. This space of “in-between” is not valued deeply in a harried and frenetic culture that is always pushing us onward to be “okay” and to be productive and at our peak performance level. We have to recognize such moments for ourselves, set boundaries around it, and intentionally enter into this space of saying farewell. We cannot rely on others to set aside this space for us.
I thought of what it would feel like knowing that this time I was going to help my parents pack things up in preparation for the move that would take place by the end of the month. Knowing that it might be my last time “coming home” to this place, what would I feel as I found myself standing outside the door with my hand still on the door handle of the home where I have stored up so many layers of memories over decades of years?
So many memories that they mingle together indistinguishable as I walk through the rooms and the land in my mind – like multicolored strands woven together in a blanket. Memories of sunrise on the treetops, shooting stars overhead as we watched with our backs together in the fields, the smell of morning pancakes and sausage drifting up to my bedroom, the cool touch of the stone hearth beside the “reading chair” where dad would sit in the evenings and read aloud and I would fall asleep to the sound of his voice.
This time as I listened to the closing chapters of The Last Battle where those who have known and loved Narnia must bid it goodbye, I felt like I could sympathize with the characters more than when I first heard it as a child. When I was young, I did not understand the need to stop and grieve over what has been lost. I was always enamored with new things – forever rushing ahead to the next thing and the next… But in my older days, I begin to recognize the importance of slowing down enough to acknowledge the gift and the deep sorrow of endings.
As King Tirian says in The Last Battle after they have witnessed the final hours of Narnia and Peter tries to stop Lucy from crying over it, “The ladies do well to weep. See, I do so myself. I have seen my mother’s death. What world but Narnia have I ever known? It were no virtue, but great discourtesy, if we did not mourn.” It is through our tears and grief at death that we pay tribute to life and to all the vibrant gifts we have received through this unique part of life that has come to an end. There is a time set aside for weeping because of the joys and loves that have been…and too the joy and love that might have been and never was.
Even Jesus took time to weep. Knowing that he planned to resurrect Lazarus from the dead, he could have skipped over a time of grief and moved right into “savior” mode telling his sisters and friends, “There is no need for all this foolish weeping! Lazarus will live again! Now, no more tears!” But he doesn’t do that. He comes and not only witnesses the heartbreaking grief in the faces of those who knew Lazarus, but grieves with them. Tears run down his cheeks at the awful fact of death. He does not run ahead (as I would have done) to the new beginning of the resurrection. He dwells with them in the darkness of finality.
Every life that is ended must be reborn into a new life. There is a change that death brings that cannot be undone. One cannot go back to the life they lived before. There are many such moments in life where there is no going back to the life we had lived before – it may not be Death itself, but they are “little deaths” nonetheless. They come in the natural course of life – even when there is no undue tragedy to speak of – like the marriage and moving away of a dear friend, the death of a beloved grandparent or parent, the start of a new job in a distant city, the age-old birthday marking another decade…
…And the saying goodbye to a childhood home which has been the family “anchor point” for so many years. I am not sure what I will feel as I begin to pack up the boxes and when I stand on the porch for perhaps the last time before I put the last bags in my car. But I pray that God will give me the grace to not go into my “check-list” mode of productivity or my auto-pilot mode of familiar habits, but that I will receive the gift of tears if they come and allow myself time to slow down enough to savor and grieve these final days of saying farewell to one core part of my life.
I know there will be a resurrection to come. I know the life to come will be better than the years I have already known, but for right now may I drink the cup of blessed witness and presence – even if that cup also brings tears. That first night that I came home, I think my mom and dad also felt the nearness of the move. Instead of putting on a movie as is our usual wont, we talked long into the evening. I talked with mom on the couch as I had done hundreds, thousands of times before and went outside and blew bubbles with dad on the porch. The dusk settled in around us as we threw a frisbee around the front yard not wanting the day to end just yet…