“Grandpa — you’re old!”
About once a week my 6-year-old granddaughter Lilly studies my face intently and after quiet reflection delivers this detached observation.
The other day I objected: “But, Lilly, I don’t feel old. Why do you think I’m old?” She shot me an incredulous look. “Grandpa,” she exclaimed, “look at yourself!”
Oh. Well, that.
I’m 59. The hair on top of my head started migrating to my nose and out my ears years ago. That was a jolt. I grew up in the 1960s youth culture. It’s weird to find yourself getting older. It’s a kind of death — the former thing passing away, ready or not.
In this life, we all undergo lots of deaths. At this moment, most of us are experiencing one or two things in our lives that are dying, or trying to die, though we might not want to let them. We experience, for example, the death of relationships, or the death of the kind of marriage we once thought we would have or the type of family we wish we had grown up in. Some of us have been physically, sexually or emotionally abused, and the way we used to be able to trust the world has died a little, maybe a lot.
As we journey, we don’t get to choose whether we will experience pain, disappointment or tragedy. They’re pushy traveling companions. Our only choice is whether we’ll run from our deaths, make war on them and struggle to keep them at bay — or experience them as part of a bigger story.
At this Easter time of year, churches take special note of an unusual, insistent pattern threaded through the world. It goes like this: Things live, they die and they’re reborn into something profoundly new. This pattern inserts itself everywhere.
In nature, the seed forms in the plant — a safe womb, sunshine, lots of leisure. Suddenly, it’s pried out and tossed underground. Buried, alone, forgotten. The end? Ah-ha, no! There’s a deeper life locked up in the seed that has to pass through a kind of outward death to be released into its full identity, the fruitful plant. Life, death, a lush rebirth.
The same pattern turns up in all of the world’s most profound shared secular and spiritual stories. Things are going great for our heroes until — oops! — calamity strikes and the game is over! But wait! An even more unexpected solution appears to deliver them into a new and deeper purpose.
The Easter idea is that this pattern of life, death and resurrection is laced through our world because it signals a rich, unfolding cosmic drama: the regenerating story of Jesus of Nazareth’s life, death and Easter resurrection. It’s a potent paradigm; our deaths aren’t a destination, a dead-end. Instead, they’re passages into a more profound experience of well-being and even transcendence — our full selves.
About 15 years ago, against my wife’s pleading, I lost what was for us a major boatload of money in bad investments. This loss exploded like a bomb in our marriage, setting off land mines we had crept around for years. A great deadness soon fingered us. I really feared we were done. We’d be married, but a core piece inside would withdraw for safety to our separate silent islands.
But we discovered a surprise. Each death comes pregnant with a resurrection. And we must make a choice. We can spend our energy trying to get back to the way things were before our deaths and cling to a fantasy life we wish was ours. Or we can make peace with our real life and move ahead with God in trust that a rich new quality of life is being sown in us. That’s Easter.
We both still wince, but agree that the lost money bought my wife a better husband! Ha! Our marriage passed through a painful death of old patterns and attitudes and emerged into a deep sweet spot we never could have imagined.
The interior truth of Easter week powerfully connects with the deaths we experience each day and the resurrections we need. We can’t escape our deaths. We can’t go around, over or under them. We have to pass through them. But in the Easter story, walking through them with us is a God armed with loving, well-timed and unexpected twists upward. Today, tomorrow and in our world’s arc forward, Easter life wins.
Joel Warne, of Plymouth, is director of WellSpring Life Resources.