It’s ironic that the reflective solitude that I enjoyed so much last year on the Camino de Santiago would be what made me feel lonely as I hiked this year.
Maybe that’s not fair, or totally true, because I am a much different person this year. It’s now been two years since Cullen’s accident.
The old adage that “time heals all wounds” is a lie. But at least the wound isn’t still hemorrhaging constantly. The fact is that wounds do not heal back to normal. This is simply not true. Another axiom is that one achieves a “new normal,” which is also a lie. There can be no normalcy when one loses a child.
From my medical perspective, an immune system attempts to repair that void or empty space where living tissue once was only by “granulating” it in with scar tissue.
So when Pontius Pilate asks, “What is truth?” I can tell him, “The truth is, time heals nothing.” Recovery through grief requires work. Yes, lots of really hard work, and much of it continues to be painful. Reading, talking, sharing, silence, and prayer. Time does create a kind of a “space” where we can put things – good things, positive things, an opportunity for suffering to be redemptive; and the “breath of life” will again come down upon us and we will find life within us. Or we can choose to not put good things in this space, and the vacuum will suck in all of the horror, and negative, and evil, and we will dwell in this bottomless pit of sewage, where there is no life and no breath. I witnessed this in a support group, where some members still wallowed in this lifeless sewage after 20 and 30 years.
Like Josie Vander Woude, we must allow ourselves to be pushed up out of that pit, and the “breath of life” to rush into our gasping lungs. Yes, I am much different than I was. Perhaps last year, I simply needed some alone time. Time to scream at God, and at Cullen, and at his stupid decision to drink that night, and at FSU for allowing him the opportunity to make such stupid choices, and at myself for not teaching him to be more effing responsible, and at God, and at my ex-wife, and at China, and at his absent guardian angel, and at God, and maybe just to scream.
One of the transitions I made last year, if you muddied through the garbled, mostly nonsensical posts of last year’s Camino, was that I found myself no longer angry. And no longer desperately needing to tell everyone the horrible story so that they would also feel horrible, and, in turn, feel sorry for me. And no longer even wanting anyone to feel sorry for me. And no longer needing to tell everyone about the tragic accident; in fact I found myself actively avoiding telling the story.
I still love to talk about Cullen, and am told that I glow with pride and joy when I get to. But now it’s the good stuff, and not so much the catastrophic loss. Because, although it is both of these, the good stuff now allows me to rejoin life. There have been so many amazing “Gifts Left Behind” that allowing myself to dwell in that dark place would make his life here just a waste; his whole life here just a mistake. And that’s just simply not the case.
So last year I welcomed this “time apart” from everyone that knows and loves me, and it did something to me. Each evening, I got to see faces of other anonymous peregrinos that were becoming familiar from the previous night, or a week ago, or even from walking together for 10 minutes during that day. We would share a glass of the local wine crop and tell each other stories of victory and loss, and that’s when I began to see the life a bit more holistically. We all have lives, with our own losses and victories. Tired of crying, I found so much more joy in hearing others’ stories, and where they are in their lives than in telling about myself.
C.S. Lewis calls this philia (love for a brother), or even agape love, where you would give of yourself for another. There’s a certain joy that is so much deeper about caring for someone else and ministering to them than there is in begging to be heard and ministered to yourself. And so life is a repetitive struggle between the two. We want to be the focus, to be served, for others to make us happy. And yet we cannot. We can not make ourselves happy, or whole, or even healed. Fortunately we also feel this tug towards others, and in that longing is joy.
“It is in giving that we receive.” (St. Francis of Assisi) We are called to serve, to minister to each other, to love each other.
Matt Maher says it well in this song that means so much to me:
(It became our theme song in Haiti, and Sarah sang it at the end of the funeral)
It’s waiting for you, knocking at your door
In the moment of truth when your heart hits the floor
And you’re on your knees
And love will hold us together Make us a shelter to weather the storm
And I’ll be my brother’s keeper
So the whole world would know that we’re not alone
This is the first day of the rest of your life
‘Cause even in the dark you can still see the light
It’s gonna be alright, it’s gonna be alright
At “the end of the day,” this becomes the manifestation of His love. We take on a servant’s heart, and others see a change in the way we live our lives. Everyone encountered becomes the living Christ.
“but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15