That time passes, and we mark its passing with agonizing precision, may be the least-recognized yet most-debilitating sin blight from Adam and Eve’s fall. I wonder whether they told their children before-and-after stories about Eden or felt tormented by second-guessing “If only.” Did they, like me, slog through their daily routines outside paradise, resigned, enduring each tedious moment?
How mired I can become in desperately dreaming ways I might construct a better next day, hungering for my fabricated thereafter where I finally…what exactly? Have a handle on life? Reach the light at the end of the tunnel? And while I seek to make real this esoteric, ephemeral mirage of clichés, I find I am carelessly, frivolously squandering what life I have now.
Sleepless nights mirror such restless frittering of time, churning up random thoughts of the past and future, my mind running an untraceable race toward some unreachable goal. On one such night, the Holy Spirit posted a glaring, blinking red stoplight and reminded me of when my brother Dave lay dying. Cancer had lightly tiptoed down his tongue in a cat-with-mouse cycle, disappearing, then pouncing further back until insidiously, obstinately clawing its way into a stranglehold around his throat. In hospice and on morphine, Dave could barely talk so I chattered to fill the spaces, yearning to give him comfort and peace but finding no purpose in his present suffering, understanding in my despair how someone would help a loved one die before God’s chosen time.
So I looked ahead and said, “Bet you can’t wait to get to heaven, be whole and pain-free again.”
He rasped, “No,” trying to speak without moving his lips, teeth, tongue, or larynx.
Astonished, I pondered his unexpected response. Did he still believe he might be healed, even as the tenacious kudzu of cancer scrabbled into his brain? What could he mean?
My breath caught remembering him as he was before, a dynamic, decisive pilot briskly striding in crisp uniform along an aircraft carrier, head high. Now he was arrayed in weak, wasted, pallid flesh, spindles for legs and arms, barely able to turn over in bed, his receding chin replaced by a slightly-off-center bulging tumor. How could my brother not yearn for heaven but remain satisfied in this present marked by constant pain, a shadow life as tenuous and unreachable as the fulsome aroma of fresh-brewed coffee he could no longer drink though his mouth filled with saliva?
“No?” I questioned hesitantly, not sure I wanted the answer. “Then what? Where do you want to be?”
With slow, excruciating difficulty, he swallowed and tried to focus his faded ice-blue eyes sparking with a hint of their once-piercing intensity. I had no clue what he was going to say but hoped I could hear and understand his mumble when it came.
“Right. Here.” Each a separate word but joined. He then grimaced as he drew a short, painful breath, concentrating on speaking clearly, “Now.”
I fell against the headboard of the bed as if someone had sucker-punched me.
“You mean live in the present?”
“Yesh,” he slurred, “wiff Jeshush.”
Oh, Dave, how could you be so wise and humble and I so stupid and arrogant? What surrender to God’s holy will that he found living in this moment, in this place, sufficient and necessary, not plagued with impatience but content right now in Jesus’ arms.
As my brother wilted into a semi-comatose state, I foolishly cried for an after that would not be, one where he shared how he learned to live right here, right now despite its horror. My sister-in-law bustled in and rearranged her husband’s limbs, encouraging me to hold his hand. Gently I cupped his cool bony fingers, concentrating all my love into our connected flesh, counting his labored breaths, each a precious gift right then and there.
The remembered sound of Dave’s lowing sighs as he settled deeper into a coma returned me to my bedroom where my husband murmured in his sleep, the air conditioner humming in counterpoint. Surrender, whispered the Spirit, here, now. He did not promise me sleep. He did not promise my next moment would be different than the one before or after. Instead, He held out His hand and invited, Live as you are, right here, right now.
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