Friday, November 02, 2007

Deep Waters, Strong Currents, and Riptides

Deep Waters

Whenever I talk about my faith, I feel like I’m wading into deep waters. In my Sunday School class we’ve discussed how “hands-on” God is and isn’t in our lives. You’d think since we all attending the same church we could come to consensus on some basic premises. You would be wrong. Endlessly we seem to examine, “Why do bad things happen to Godly people?”, “What is loving about going through painful ordeals, and is God there, or not?”, “What happens to people who don’t believe as we do?”, and “What happens to people who live a sinful life?”

This week, I’ve really been struggling with first two issues.

Two of my Sunday School class members are fighting cancer. Two years ago we lost another member to cancer. I think it’s human nature to try and put things into perspective. Or to make sense out of a senseless world. I don’t think God “punishes” us by sending death, disease, disorder, and distress to our lives. I also don’t think it’s God’s job to prevent those things from occurring in our lives either.

The more I think about God, the more I go back to the symbolism of parenting. (Not that I am one) … but I assume as a parent you do everything you can to protect your children and give them good things in life. But you can’t protect a child from everything – and you can’t give them everything they desire.

Sometimes you don’t protect them so they’ll learn a lesson. Sometimes there’s no way to protect them. Life happens. It doesn’t mean you love them less. It doesn’t mean you’re not involved in their life. It doesn’t mean you’re not capable. It just means things happen beyond your control.

It’s the same for God. I believe He is sovereign. He made everything and is a part of everything. But part of that sovereignty means that He won’t interrupt the cycle He’s put in motion. His choice to give us Free Will also means we must live with the consequences of our decisions.

Just as parents must relinquish decision making and control of their children’s lives to the child, as he matures, so God allow us to make, and deal, with the decisions we’ve made.

So – back to me.

When I found out about the sudden and unexpected death of the husband to one of the women fighting/living with cancer … it shook me up. I yelled at God. (Yes, even He doesn’t escape the displeasure of the red-head). “What are you doing?” I asked. “Doesn’t she have enough to deal with right now?” Of course, the minute I screamed at Him, I knew better. I knew God didn’t DECIDE it was time for this man to die. I knew God didn’t have a specific PURPOSE behind his death. It was just the capricious nature of life. The life we all live each and every day. But still, I wasn’t very happy about it.

Then I went to the visitation last night.

As I joined the line to sign the guestbook, I saw one of my favorite people. She was standing out of the view of most. Abandoning my place I walked down the hall towards her and we embraced. Somewhere in that hug, words were exchanged and I said, “But it’s not supposed to be one of YOU GUYS dying now!” and then I was engulfed. Big wracking sobs tried to escape from my mouth. But I wouldn’t let them. The force of maintaining control set my whole body to trembling and shaking like an Aspen in a breeze. “Shsss-shhh,” she crooned to me. “It’s alright to cry, Mit, it’s all right.”

But it wasn’t. Or it wasn’t for me. So I stepped out of that embrace and walked down the hall to take care of another piece of business and regain my composure.

Once again under control, I got back in line and carried forth. There were lots of people to see and talk to as I made my way to (it is so hard to type these words) “the widow's” side. A brief hug was all that was required – and indeed all there was time for – in the crush of people. Leaving the room I felt relief and a small sense of pride. I’d done it – and maintained.

Oh, that that was the end of the story. But it’s not.

As I was departing, I met more class members. Members who are part of the “original” group. I stopped to talk. As our words traversed the space between us I realized we were talking about the same event, but from a different result. “What do you mean, “I can’t believe he “chose” this?” I said. “It was a heart attack, wasn’t it? Just a few weeks ago he was talking about chest pains.” Luminous eyes, filled with sadness looked at me. A thin-tiny voice said, “No, that’s not what it was. You don’t know?” I shook my head. “He committed suicide.” The phrase hung there … suspended between us – spectral – with its implication. We talked for just a few more moments and I left.

I drove out to Dr. Esq’s. I drank wine while he cleaned up from his run around the lake. We went to dinner. Calmly I was able to share the new found information and my pain.

Strong Currents

If I liken examining my faith to wading into deep waters, then talking about depression is like talking about carrying out life while treading a strong current. I am no stranger to the mighty force depression can exert on a person and their life. Lifeguards say it doesn’t take much energy to stay afloat while treading water, just as people who’ve never battled depression say it doesn’t take much to end a depressive cycle. I think they’re wrong. It takes all my strength to make it through a day when I’m swept into the current of depression. Sometimes “making it through the day” isn’t even an option. The depression is so swift there is no making headway, much less joining the day. Just breathing in and out, and eating require superhuman effort.

There are things I can do to help stem the tide. Eating properly and getting enough sleep and exercising are all beneficial. Getting out of my head and my house is also good therapy. Counting my blessing (but not beating myself up for being undeserving of them), doing for others (but not to the extent I lose myself), and being involved in activities (in a balanced manner), all help me swim against that strong current, not to mention my on-going constant conversation with God.


Failing to do these things is like entering a rip-tip. A tide so strong, all rational thought leaves. No amount of effort can extract me. Panicked and fearful, the only solution seems to be to stop struggling. To stop fighting the current. To just slip below the waves into a silent and calm place where no effort is required. Some might call it giving up. Others would call it surrender.

I have no idea if depression was a factor or not in this instance.

But me, human me, is trying to make sense out of the senseless. How else can I explain why a man who was loved, well-respected, and a child of God, could make this choice? This painful, painful, choice for those of us left behind.

You can’t see a riptide from the shore. I do not know the interior currents in his life. I do not know what waves buoyed him, and which ones crashed over his head. I can see the grief and devastation left in the wake of this riptide and it makes me sad and angry.

Go with the Tide

When you enter a riptide, they tell you to not fight it. Let it carry you until it loses its strength. For me, emotions are also like riptides. I don’t know where they’re going to take me, nor do I know how to navigate them.

Yesterday I received this e-mail from someone in my writing class, “I think that all of us living, experience a rush of past losses when a new loss occurs. It's our opportunity to heal pieces of ourselves. I … [think] .. the people who have passed are giving us the gift to grieve a little more of ourselves and our losses, and so, they are contributing to our healing.” She also said, “You are not a burden to your friends, you are a member of the grieving family. Allowing others to comfort you gives them the gift of having a purpose. We all need to feel like we have a purpose and we all need opportunities to give to others. So allow your friends to give to you.”

Dilly has also offered the same advice about me letting others care for me. She also told me that it’s alright for me to feel the pain of this death. Just because I’m newer to the class doesn’t mean my feelings are less, or less valid.

So … here I am. I’m going to be brave and ride this riptide of emotion. I’m going to let people care for me – and I’m going to tell (a few people) what I’m feeling until this current loses it’s strength.

1 comment:

clt said...

Dearest Mit, your words speak to my heart and bring tears to my eyes. So many tears I've cried this past week. I'm sorry you experienced the shock of hearing it was not an accidental death at the service, and feeling guilty that I couldn't climb out of my own grief to call you to share this info. While you may consider yourself "new" to our group, you are an integral part of our church family, and so important to me and others. "The widow." I can't get my mind around that label yet. Our dear friend will need us to help her get through her many challenges over these next weeks and months. And we'll both need to allow ourselves to be not-so-brave and to cry and allow others to hold us up with their strength. And most of all we'll need to trust in God during this time of many tears and no choose faith in the midst of our trials.