death


 

Well, they certainly did not ask my permission. It’s all just as well, because if they had I most certainly would not have given it. But really! It is just barely the middle of August, there is still a lot of Iowa summer left, and those silly birds have already pulled up stakes, loaded their wagons and headed off to that mysterious place where Robins go when they leave my town and my trees.

 

Not that they usually ask for my permission for anything they do in ‘my town’ and in ‘my trees.’ The males arrive in late winter and set up shop. One of the first things they do is decide who gets the choice tree outside my bedroom window; decide who gets to sing me his morning song; decide who gets to wake me each morning and set up my summer schedule. I mean, pretty presumptive of them!

 

And so, he sits there and does his chittering song at the first hint of dawn, faithfully, every morning, rain or shine; and totally irrespective of any mood I may be in. I mean; what does he know about my desire to sleep another hour on some given morning. And then, after singing his silly song, (faithfully, every morning, rain or shine,) one morning, in the middle of August, with a lot of summer still left, he just quits, cold turkey, becomes a snow bird, rounds up his family, and is gone. One morning, in the middle of August, the window is open, the fan is off, the birch tree is still there, the sparrows chitter, they chitter all the time, it means nothing; the mourning dove still sits on top of the light pole across the street and coos to his bride, he coos at any hour of the day; but My Robin’s song is gone. I wake up thinking I must have slept through his alarm but after three mornings in a row I know the truth, the voice of my assigned robin is no more.

 

I keep wondering, is this how life works? We arrive without requesting, or receiving permission either, we set off on the stage of life and say our piece, we play the assigned parts: And then some morning, with us thinking there’s still a lot of summer left, we find the curtain has dropped, our voice has been stilled, and we go off to our “long home, and the mourners go about the streets.”

 

The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved. Jeremiah 8:20

It is one of those abnormal days that normally come to my small town.

Before the dawn I slip the bonds of my bed and merge into the darkness outside my front door. Southwest of us there is the constant strobe from lightening – a fitting sequel to yesterday’s un-normally pleasant fall day. Before the dawn – lights come on – briefly. A working mother hurries her two across the street. She pushes them; she pushes the fob in her hand; car lights blink twice. Half a block away a porch light also comes on; a woman kisses a man in a doorway; the door closes and the light goes back out. The lightning keeps flashing.

The early mornings in my small town have sounds. Three miles west of me a train signals as it approaches a crossing; down on Interstate Eighty, whining turbochargers kick in and ram air into the gluttonous throats of big diesel engines; a Killdeer makes its strident calls as it flies off somewhere down my street; in a field southeast of here an enormous reaping machine, behind some piercing lights, goes after several more early morning acres before the lightening yields to the rain.

The dawn is closer now; so also the lightening; so also the rain. The associated thunders now mix with the other sounds around me. The train now comes to my crossing, announces its presence, and rumbles past. The breeze picks up and the first drops fall; I move my contemplations inside my dwelling. I move to safety – I move, anticipating the normal. The thunder now rumbles beyond me also and soon the sun comes out. I sit in fellowship at my breakfast table and raise my orange juice glass. L’chei-im – I toast for life.

It is an abnormal day in my small town. Somewhere close to me someone will not rise with the dawning. Somewhere, the struggle continues for a few more breaths, a few more moments with loved ones, just a few more acres in the field of life. And then the gentle breeze brings on the rain. Somewhere the “grinders cease” but the rain will not. Two men will be together in a field, one will be taken and the other left. It is what normally takes place some of those early mornings in my small town.

Jonas Borntreger
10/22/2012

There is just something about kneeling on the ground, smelling the fresh earth, and trying to nourish growing things.

Or maybe it’s the green plastic water bucket with KB carefully stenciled on the side. That, and the new garden tools bought with a birthday gift card from my children.

Or than maybe it is about being stuck in the generation between someone’s past and some other people’s future.

Maybe it all came down to some old woman living in a nursing home; spitting five plum pits into a napkin and thinking, “With the right care those pits could become an orchard.”

Somehow, almost in another lifetime; I found myself (almost resentfully,) responsible for the care and nourishment; the future, of five plum pits; and – even being held to a degree of accountability for them. And she, who couldn’t remember whether the pits came from raw or cooked plums; couldn’t remember what I had just told her about how I was caring for them; somehow remembered that she had given something to me that was important to her and kept asking me, over and over again, month after month, visit after visit, whether I had planted them yet.

And so it came to pass that almost exactly a year ago I took five plum pits out of the freezer and lovingly placed them in the ground beside my red raspberry bushes and carefully watched over them for an entire summer with urgent fervency. The fervency was heightened soon after the planting when we also planted that dear person’s body on a hill overlooking a field of growing things. We planted her there awaiting a resurrection day. I watched for life for an entire summer and sadly saw nothing.

This morning!

This morning, with my mother’s green plastic bucket and my children’s birthday-present garden tools, kneeling on the grass, pulling weeds from my raspberry bushes, and caring for growing things; this morning, almost pulling it out for one of the weeds, I spied one slender red/purple stalk with perhaps ten delicate leaves; something that was not there last summer and was most assuredly not one of the weeds with which I was familiar.

I am not sure what a plum tree seedling is supposed to look like but if you were here I would gladly take you back next to the alley. I would be glad to let you vote whether you thought the carefully protected thin little stem and its little green leaves was actually a young plum tree. Together, we might voice opinions about whether it might someday become something. What is not up for vote is the effect that young plant had on me. What is not up for debate is “Whispering hope, like the voice of an angel. This morning, kneeling in the grass amidst growing things, that little sprig of life was “making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.”

I recently watched a video where Floyd McClung answered the question, “What was the highlight of your life this past year?” After admitting that many would seem it strange, he said it was the funeral of his father.

His answer struck a responsive chord with me. I also had a part in an end-of-life service this past year. My mother”s home going last April was the climax of an humble and unselfish life. Being a participant as we watched a mother lead her extended family to the crossing, and then, without fear or complaining showed us, “This is how it’s done;” was fantastic beyond bounds.

If you care to comment; I would be interested to hear what was the highlight of your recent past.

There was weeping at my house last night. The old Morton Salt slogan came to mind. “When it rains, it pours.” Why does it seem that the things that trouble us “come in threes”? The obvious tip of the emotional iceberg for us today is the sudden removal from this life of a husband, father, relative and friend. We struggle, along with all who are involved, with the senselessness, the brutality, and the sheer enormity of the emotional gulf that is fixed. We find ourselves unable to cross over it. Our spirits make demands from God; demands that we know to be futile before we start. Into this chasm; a poem by Whittier. I hope it speaks to you as it did to me.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard,
Beside the Syrian sea,
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity,
Interpreted by love!

With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

A TIME TO MOURN

A Personal Position Paper on Funerals, Cremation and End-of-Life matters.

Several days ago someone in my family e-mailed me about attending a “Celebration Service” where the deceased had been cremated. He described it as a “refreshing” service; a “different experience;” and was relieved at not having to be involved where one experienced the morbidity of “looking at the empty shell of a body.” (more…)

(The following is excerpted from a study I did about the body, soul and spirit of man. JJB)

THE PROGRESS OF REDEMPTION

 

We have just seen how sin brought death; a death that went from spirit to soul to body. As the process of death is progressive, likewise there is also a ‘progress’ in the work of restoration from that death. (more…)