And So I Tell Your Story

When I was eighteen, my aunt gave me a copy of her favorite book: a small parable about the love of flight.  

It was a thin volume that contained a simple yet deep story which had, over the course of her life, become increasingly important to her because the person who had given it to her, my grandfather, had loved it very much.  In fact, he had been the one who passed the book on to her.  

And she, years after he died, shared it with me.  

And when I met you, I couldn’t help but think of how much you reminded me of the central character in that book.  I remember telling you about it during the first few weeks that our own story began to unfold.   

In fact, that book, and the story it contained, was my first gift to you.  And when I handed it to you, I couldn’t help but feel that the love of my grandfather’s original gift was somehow living on. 

That’s what happens when a good story is passed on: it honors and brings to mind the person responsible for originally sharing it.  The story my grandfather left our family decades ago, to this day, remains a gift.  

And in that same way, six years ago, when God started writing the story of you and I, it too became a story worth sharing.

And I do share it.  Constantly.  

That story, our story, I flip and read through it so often in my head, and I speak of it so much, that I sometimes worry that, over the course of time, some of the details will eventually fade away or distort. Or that some of the pages will be loosened from their binding and possibly be lost or lose their meaning.

I worry that our story will become so worn out, that there will be days, weeks, months, and even years where I won’t even think to reach for it, because I’ll begin to believe that a story that was lived so long ago couldn’t possibly have anything new to offer anyone. Even myself.

I worry about these things every time someone asks me how long I plan to let your loss define me.  

And to be honest, I’m not sure how long defining moments in our lives are allowed to keep defining us.  I’m not sure they ever actually stop?  

What I do know though is that lament and the telling of the stories of our dead is in our bones. 

In fact, for thousands of years, in countless civilizations, the stories of the dead so strongly rattled in the bones of those who loved them, that their grief would pour loudly onto city streets. Displays of lament became so disruptive that eventually laws were put into place in an effort to contain them. Grief was viewed as something to be done out loud; a “discourse of pain” between humans in the throes of mourning and the throne room of God. In some places, the real tragedy was a death that was left unnoticed, unmourned, and “unscreamed.”

The stories of our dead were always meant to be told – to be shared – and so I share yours. I share your story with others so others can then share theirs with me: A call and response about people we love. A growing song of lament.

I share your story because, when I do, the One who wrote it knows that His gift was good. 

And you were a good story… a beautiful one. Albeit, one with too few chapters.

And though I would have written your story very differently… And though I sobbed, tore at my skin, and pleaded at God’s feet that you should be granted a longer one: as time has gone on, I am beginning to see that I could not have actually written it any better.

And so I tell it.  As it was and as it is.  

I speak of your story, which like the one I got from my aunt decades ago, was a gift whose importance I could never have conceived of when it was first, from God’s hands, placed into mine.

On God, Blind Faith, and Narrow Paths

It’s been no secret that, in the year since losing John, I’ve been going through somewhat of a profound spiritual experience.

Some people call it an “awakening,” but to me that term suggests that I’m “awake” while others are “asleep.”  And I think that comes across as pretty arrogant. So, for that reason, I prefer to say that I’m experiencing a “spiritual re-alignment.”

I do not think I was “asleep” in any sense of the word before John’s accident.  I think I was like many people who consider themselves atheist or agnostic.  I was fully invested in and engaged in my life.  And I was open to finding and experiencing what people referred to as “faith.”  I just never did.

Growing up, I had sat through sermons in church pews, temples, and gurudwaras waiting for some feeling or inclination that there was more to life than just what we saw around us.  It didn’t matter if I went to a youth group or yoga class, people sitting around and talking about God and universal connection sounded exactly like people just sitting around talking.  It was uninspiring at best.

Nothing ever moved me.  Nothing ever stuck.

So I relegated faith and belief to the same category as I did fairy tales: I felt that they were stories people told themselves to make the world less scary and lonely.

I eventually turned to a much more rational approach to the world…I turned to therapy and, eventually, to travel and this worked well for me.

I did really well in therapy because once I was presented with information that contradicted an existing belief or paradigm, I was open to adapting and changing the way I thought.  My therapists (and John) loved this about me, and through therapy, I honed my ability to experience, process, and adapt to new information.

Though I had therapy to help me process my experiences, I did not abandon religious or spiritual ideas all together.  But I also did not have a meaningful way to incorporate them into a life that already made sense on its own, so I used religion and spirituality in the same way we use filters on photos: as a way to artificially brighten or dim very real experiences.

That was the nature of my faith.

I’d had plenty of dark times in my life before, and “faith” never did anything for me.  It wasn’t like a flashlight that would turn on when times got dark, it was more a kaleidoscope.  A lens I could pick up and hold to my eye anytime I wanted to see the unreal and the abstract projected onto the real world.

And then I met John and found all the faith I ever needed in the form of another person, and I remember feeling blessed.  And I remember feeling happy.  I remember feeling good.

But then he died.

And everything started going dark.

And faith, the children’s toy that it had always been to me, I didn’t even bother reaching for it.  It was useless, and I knew it.

And the day John died I also knew something else…that if there was a God, he must have been silent my entire life for one reason:  because he does not waste his time on the wretched.  I knew that God must only speak to “the good.” People like John who had been lucky enough to be given real faith.

I knew that God must have thought it better for John to be dead than to be loving  someone like me. I knew that God must have killed John in order to “save” him.

If there was a God,  I didn’t hate him, but I knew he must have hated me.

And so I sat in the darkness of my life accepting that I was either truly alone, or detested by a God I didn’t know how to believe in.

And I imagine that’s when God, horrified by the highly dramatic conclusions I was coming to, decided to do what he does best…he decided to turn on a light.

And in the darkness I was in, it was all I saw.

It was a subtle light, like the flashing of an incoming call on a cellphone screen, but it was the only light I could see.  So I walked towards it and stumbled through what I now know were my first steps of blind faith.

I took the first steps of faith, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing. But every time I got to a light I could see that another one stretched out in front of me.  Some were as faint as an engine light on a car dashboard.  Others were haunting, like a T.V. that keeps turning itself on in a dark room.

The lights didn’t make sense.  They weren’t in a straight line, but…they were lights in the darkness, so I kept walking to them.

I was certain that every light I got to would be the last one I would see, but there was always another one.  And I had no idea who or what was turning them on.

Each step was a stumble through the darkness on a path that no one else but me could sense. And that was confusing, and terrifying, and so many times I was worried I’d succumbed to delusion because there was no way any of this could be real.

I struggled to come to terms with what was happening.

And as I struggled through the darkness, I struggled to understand how to even put into words what I was experiencing, so I decided to just use one word: God.  God apparently was happening to me.

Only my experience was so different when compared to anything I had ever associated with God before.

It was almost as if John’s death had broken me in such a way that, like a bent antenna, I could now pick up on a new frequency.  Some sort of “God Frequency.”

And in that darkness I found a new sense of sight, where I could sense order in events where I had only ever sensed chaos and disorder.  I could hear and sense so much more than I ever could before.  But in the darkness, I  still struggled to understand why I was being helped.  If God is real, why had he stayed so silent in my life? Why was he so silent in so many people’s lives? Why did he allow us to suffer?  Why?

I started to ask.  And I started to seek.  And I started to question.   And that’s when God asked me if I was ready for him to turn on more of the lights.

And I said, “yes.”

And so he did.

But these lights didn’t light up only the way forward, they illuminated the path behind me, so I looked.  I could see my past, and in it, I could see all the different times God had turned on a light that I simply couldn’t see because there were already so many other lights on.

I saw the highs of my life, and there was God, laughing with me.  I saw the mundane parts of my life, and there was God, gazing mindlessly off into space with me.  And I saw my lowest moments.  I saw the morning I found out that John was dead.  I saw myself in agony.  I saw myself clawing at my own skin.  And I saw God suffering with me.

In this new light, I saw God laughing, living, and suffering through me.

In this light I could see, stretching in front of me, a narrow path with a small gate…leading somewhere, and I understood for the first time why the path to God feels this isolating…it’s because my path is only for me.  No one else.

No one else will ever or has ever walked this exact path before, and no one else can walk it for me.   And it’s terrifying when you know walking the narrow path of your own faith makes you a lunatic to some and a heretic to others.

I guess this is why, “few are those who find it.”

But I’ve been walking it.  And I’ve been talking about it and trying to put this walk into words.  Telling people about the scenery I’ve encountered along the way.

And when this walk is too much, and I can’t get a feel for the next step, I stop.

And I turn my gaze upwards towards the skies John flew in, and I let myself feel lost and alone.  And I let myself cry because I want to be walking this path while holding his hand.

But then I keep walking down my narrow path. Some days I skip down it.  Some days I curse it.  But most days, I simply walk it led by faith and the knowing that love put me on it.

On this path, I have met the fearful.  Those who urge me to get on their path and abandon mine.  Those who use my experiences to validate their belief in a Heaven that will not have me and a Hell that will.   I have met people who, understandably, don’t believe I’m on a path because they don’t trust roads that don’t show up on a GPS.  And I have met people who, because of the heaviness of their own grief, have stopped walking altogether.

I have also met the faithful (of so many faiths), walking their own narrow paths.  Those who stop to minister to the pain of others by offering to be what John was to me: faith in human form.

I see everyone on their own different narrow path…and I also see God with all of them whether they see him there or not.  And he is turning on lights.  Hoping that our lives never get so dark that we are able to see them.

“Do not be dismayed, for your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

 

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