Saturday, April 7, 2012

In the Land of Saturday

For the past month or so I have been stranded in a foreign country, one which I have visited before but which nevertheless remains disorienting and peculiarly impermeable to my best efforts at achieving ease and familiarity. It is the country of loss, where I, exiled among the living, struggle ineffectually to mentally and emotionally process the death of a beloved member of my most intimate circle. This time it is the death of my American mom, the person who more than 30 years ago gave me my life in this country and who continued to both bless my life and that of my family, and profoundly influence who I have become as an adult. She was 91, so it could hardly be said that her passing was unexpected, yet it has left me floundering in the unfamiliar terrain of a world suddenly without her. That "withoutness" is what loss is all about, made all the more poignant by the fact that I took the life "with" so much for granted. Ironically, only Death has the power to make most of us see how much of ourselves was validated by the presence of the one we are now without.

At this point, if I were following the formula of so much spiritual "grief" writing, I would begin to recount how during this dark period I have felt lifted and buoyed by God and how grateful I am that I am a person of faith and how awful it would be to go through this without the Great Comforter, yada yada yada. But the truth is that not in a good long time have I felt the essentially theoretical nature of God so acutely. During the time that I sat by Virginia's side and following her death, my occasional attempts at prayer have felt as dry as dust. Seeing her treasured possessions being dispersed and offloaded on an estate warehouse have reminded me of the briefness of our tenure on this earth, and throwing out old photos of her long dead relatives, now nameless and forgotten, made me feel the fruitlessness and pathos of our own individual strivings. Vanity, vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

It seems apposite that I am writing this on Easter Saturday. It was Cornel West, I think, who referred to himself as a "Saturday Christian" - one who has embraced the life and death of Christ, but who has yet to experience the joy and certainty of the Resurrection. To lose someone close is to be thrust into the land of Saturday. The easy platitudes and feel good emollients of our day-to-day spiritual lives and practices are revealed exactly for what they are - superficial, all-too-human ways to give our lives meaning and convince ourselves of our own importance. One day in the future someone will have the task of erasing us from the temporal world (we'll go out in boxes for resale and garbage bags for incineration), and as we sit here in Saturday we wonder if "eternal" refers to life or oblivion.

Interestingly, Jesus talked a lot about loss as a necessary prerequisite to gaining life:

"Anyone who wants to save his life, must lose it. Anyone who loses her life will find it. What gain is there if you win the whole world and lose your very self? What can you offer in exchange for your one life?" - Matthew 16:25-26.

What, indeed? In the land of Saturday, these are the sorts of questions that try a woman's soul. One has to live out the awful truth that suffering and loss are not only inevitable but also necessary. Even as I grope around in the darkness of my grief, I am aware that without the certainty of loss, the sure knowledge of life's finite nature, I could never experience love so acutely. I could never savor so intensely sitting outside on a sunny spring day, as I did today, drinking coffee with a good friend watching my human and canine neighbors living in the now of Easter Saturday. For the land of Saturday is not without its consolations. It's the place where we are necessarily naked, stripped temporarily of the illusions that make "normal" life possible and even palatable. We are held suspended in the universal, between our own parochial pasts and our utterly unknowable futures. For a brief time, we live viscerally in the knowledge that the only life we have is what we are living now, and now, and now.

Living always in the land of Saturday is only for the most evolved souls, I think. Personally, I look forward to tomorrow, to the Resurrection, when I can gather my individual self together again and continue on the journey with my ruck sack packed with my own personal "stuff" - the illusions, the good intentions, the failings, the gifts - that make me, me. Fortunately, even from the lonely, prayerless perspective of Saturday, I have enough faith to believe that when I get to tomorrow I won't have to carry that ruck sack alone.