It happened a long time ago but I’m still pained by it when it arises unbidden. His veins were bulging, his voice was strident and at some points close to screaming at me, I tried to speak but he wouldn’t allow it and I was terribly frightened by him. He had no good cause for his unbridled tirade. Still, he made me very afraid and I was experiencing again what I had experienced as a young boy in numerous situations that don’t need developed here. (I don’t mean that while he was savagely going after me that I was thinking of those early childhood experiences—I only mean that a current experience of pain subconsciously joins earlier and almost forgotten experiences and without conscious linking they merge and the current pain is more painful because it doesn’t exist in isolation. For so many of us our history remains easily available, so available that we don’t have to call it up—the events just appear with all the details vivid or at least with the hurt as intense decades later as it was then.) I’ve seen that happen to other people, many times, in my life.
I’m sure I’ve been guilty of doing it and I’m certain if I stopped right now and looked for example of that that I’d find it but I don’t want to do that right now. I only know that I want to do no more of it! I believe in “tough love” if indeed tough love is “love”. I’ve read quite a bit about that and listened to people discuss it but it remains difficult for me to work with. Talking about it is a good thing, well, some talking about it can be a good thing, but when the talking is over there they are—the existential moments, the events that demand a decision and action. Life has a way of showing us that even good and wise words have their limits. You know what I mean.
But I didn’t begin this piece thinking about the sad or excruciatingly painful or hard to fathom issues of life. I wanted to tell you about my sister Annie and an occasion that I can’t think about without smiling and then because I’m very God-conscious, conscious of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, my mind before long links things to Him. In saying that I’m not bragging—I’m another one of multiplied millions that are like that. But I’m not prepared to apologize either that I’m a Christian.
Anyway, here’s what happened. I came back from a trip to Russia where I picked up two beautiful Russian dolls; one for my Ethel and one for Annie. Annie had just past eighty, lived alone in a tough part of Belfast during “The Troubles”. Her husband her beloved son, an only child, Jim, were dead. Jim’s death came right out of the blue; young, vibrant, his mother’s closest and attentive friend (mid-fifties I’d guess), died within 24 hours!
Annie had suffered some from dementia but when Jim died a profound depression set in and the dementia accelerated. (Seems like everything is called Alzheimer’s these days—sigh.) She didn’t want to live anymore and told me that repeatedly. Every now and then she was happy for me to bring her to visit Ethel and my sister-in-law Ann and if we had more friends in Annie would sing for us; she was a great singer, the “blues” kind of songs. I didn’t know that until very late in our relationship—our lives had taken us in different directions.
Okay, so she was in the wee living area when I brought in the doll. The colors were beautiful. I made a big deal of the surprise I had for her and when she finally saw it she was pleased, said it was lovely, but wasn’t especially taken with it. Her tone and face made that clear; she didn’t have the emotional energy to be very impressed. I said something like, “Look at this” as I took the top off and there was another doll. She smiled, looked at me and said, “Isn’t that great?!” She examined it for a moment and then I took off another and she laughed a bit and with a more lively tone said, “Look at that would ye!” I removed another and she started cackling and joyously said, “Oh my God. Look at that!” (I hate that expression. You’d think that writers and people at large would come up with some other expression than that usual mindless response to just about any word or happening. But that’s not how Annie used it. She was stunned as well as pleased. Before I had removed all the tops and she was left with a little baby doll she was rocking back and forward in her chair, clapping her hands, laughing like a child and repeatedly in her lovely and broad Belfast accent telling somebody, nobody, anybody, “Wud ye luck at that! Wud ye luck at that!”
I love telling that story. Into her sad day came moments of truly happy surprise. Something new, something lovely, something that for a while shut out the darkness and brought light, something that lifted her poor sad heart and gave it a chance to beat faster, something that channeled her thoughts in a happier direction. She died not long after. In some ways she had died a good while before she died. Sigh.
I didn’t take that occasion to teach her about God though we had talked frequently about Him. She wasn’t especially impressed with Him for she had had a very hard life but I know He must have been impressed with her.
There is a day coming, there’s a new world coming, when each uncovering will show more and more of His wisdom and His goodness. For eye hasn’t seen nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who have come to know and love Him.
There is new life coming, new adventure, new understanding. “See this?” He will say and then show something more and then even more. And everyone embraced in His redeeming work in and through the Lord Jesus will clap their hands and laugh out loud like happy astonished children.
Think noble things of God!