No Lukewarm Love

I am not a lukewarm love

Found in riddles or sideways glances.

No games will I play with a heart

So treasured as yours.

 

There are no butterflies in my stomach

because there is no question mark in my heart.

I am a declaration as I weave my fingers through yours

and lay my head on your shoulder.

 

I fall asleep to the sound of your voice

Telling me stories I’ve heard before

My body arched around yours

our breathing synced.

 

Our lives together are full

full of God and joy, laughter and fun

and yes… pain and tears

A lifetime full of firsts and lasts.

 

Until it’s just me

Saying my last goodbye to you.

And there’s no more stories at night.

Just quiet and the memories of a love that was never lukewarm

to keep my heart warm at night.

 

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Dream

From July 21st

I look down and there’s a cow carcass. As my view expands and I see more and more animal carcasses: elephants, goats, pigs, all sorts of lifeless creatures reaching to the horizon. The view is gray, foreboding, desolate. There is no “nature,” not a tree or a flower in sight. There is no sun or moon.

Then a man (impression of Josef or Francis?) is standing near me and I sense he is a saint (but I don’t even know what that means). I can’t tell if it’s his voice or Gods that speaks: “You’re missing so much of me.” A great and heavy sadness settles on my heart. “Are my creations not facets of me?”

I feel confused and start to wonder if I was somehow responsible for so much death; this innumerable loss. Yet even in my confusion and sadness I feel a compassion surround me, like warm sunlight. I feel how finite I am; I sense how little I know but it is reassuring. I get the sense that if I were to understand, it would be too much for me. I would be unraveled by the burden.

Overall though, the feeling of mourning and loss dominates this world.

Life According to Ecclesiastes

I always feel differently about Ecclesiastes depending on the place I am in my life. Ecclesiastes starts in a place that sounds dire. Many people I have spoken to have been stuck there at one time or another; it is a place I existed for a long time. The belief that everything is meaningless. Then it gets more specific. It asks, what about spending our life seeking wisdom? Or conversely, living foolishly?

“I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” Ecclesiastes 1:16-18 

So the wiser you are, the more sorrow you come to know. The more knowledge, the greater your grief (although from observation I believe this is true if indeed our hearts are part of this growth in wisdom and knowledge). Later it is clarified that it is better to be wise than foolish, but that it doesn’t in itself create meaning. It goes on next to examine the pursuit of pleasure. This is an endeavor our society can relate to. “Do what makes you happy.” “Do what you want to do!” “…the pursuit of happiness…” and so forth.

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 

That sorrow and grief I felt made me decide that the pain I felt was not worth it. I hardened myself and decided to try to pursue my own happiness; it turns out that happiness is not obtained in such a manner, at least not for me. The more I checked off my list of things I believed would bring me happiness, the emptier I felt. I had put value on the wrong things and in the wrong places. So I threw myself into my work.

“For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” Ecclesiastes 2:21-25 

So I toiled and toiled; my nights were restless. I worked long hours in a field which I was least suited for but I did it well and I cared about serving the people with whom I worked by making their jobs better. This served them well and it grew me as a person but I was becoming more unhappy and it was effecting my health. Slowly my passion died. Then I started to get to know God, and I really began exploring what life looked like when you put God first and each aspect of my life started to shift.

“To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:26

God gave me sources to go to for knowledge, wisdom and happiness; and He somehow made me a source of those things to others. God began creating abundance in my life in the matter of a few crazy short years. There certainly has been struggle and sacrifice on my part but on the other side of it is crazy goodness! This is no longer a chasing after the wind. One of the keys here is that we don’t do it alone. Ecclesiastes talks about meaninglessness of the man toiling alone, longing after wealth when he has no brother or son. It goes on to look at the value you create together:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 

After telling us that our value is found not in isolation but in relationship, it examines our relationship with God. This isn’t being terrified of God, but understanding the awesome power of God and respecting it; not making light of the covenants or promises that you make to God and that you remain faithful in the commitments you make to God. If the only thing you have with God is words but your actions don’t reflect your relationship, then it is meaningless.

“When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it…Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.” Ecclesiastes 5:4-7

So we’ve got value in relationship with others and God (kind of like when Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and love others). But there’s a lot of other things that come with life. Can our value be found in wealth? Ecclesiastes 5:10 says “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” It lists a lot of ways wealth, consumption and desire are meaningless. So where is the goodness in wealth? To happily toil and be content and enjoy their gift with a glad heart from God.

“This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

Contentment; to be content with where God calls us and to serve Him with a happy heart. To love the life that we have been given with the people we are with; because to not see the abundance of blessings that exist within our life and give thanks for them is to endure suffering of the most acute kind; as written, a grievous evil.

God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man— even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?” Ecclesiastes 6:2-6

We all must die. In Ecclesiastes 9:2 it says, “All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.” We all leave this world through the veil of death; the question is, what do we do with our life? First, enjoy it with a glad heart.

“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do… Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love… For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

Invest diversely and abundantly and do not be idle; although we now understand some things much better than they did when Ecclesiastes was written, the awesome mysteries of the universe are bountiful and remind us how little do we know. Even smaller is the amount of influence and control we have over the direction our investments take, whether we speak of time, assets, or energy.

“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” Ecclesiastes 11:5-6

And lastly but perhaps most importantly, remember your Creator who blessed you with the day that you have and the breathe that you breath. Honor the covenant between the Lord God and yourself.

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Final Paper: Life Through Death

Paul wrote in an early part of his book about how quickly the medical students changed and that the, “Cadavers reverse the polarity. The mannequins you pretend are real; the cadavers you pretend are fake… to take one good look at our cadaver’s face and then to leave it covered; it makes the work easier.” (Kalanithi, 45) It’s facelessness quickly allowed what was once a person in whom life dwelled, a person who may have loved deeply and been deeply loved, to become instead pieces of a body. Although in this paper we look at Paul’s life as he approaches death to understand what has been learned both about living and the process of dying, let us not forget that Paul was real and his loss was deep. Loved by his wife, family and friends, he also left behind a future in his words, the lives he impacted and his young daughter newly created. It is in his words to his daughter, who will remember him only through others, that we see the title of our class captured so clearly:

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing. (Kalanithi, 199)

This kind of response to one’s own death might seem extraordinary to many, but it was sculpted by a lifetime of influences. His Christian father and Hindu mother had eloped from the south of India to New York City where he had been raised for a while before being moved to Arizona with his family. His mother’s concern about his education caused her to emphasize reading heavily at a very young age. Meanwhile, his father was deeply committed to his medical practice which meant that he was not frequently around, making Paul view the personal cost of medicine as too high early on in his life. However, these things would remain important threads throughout the story of Paul.

Brave New World founded my nascent moral philosophy and became the subject of my college admissions essay, in which I argued happiness was not the point of life.” (Kalanithi, 27) After starting college he consumed literature courses in a search for human meaning but soon began to look into biology to understand the mechanisms that made creatures creators, ultimately moving over to the pursuit of a medical degree. And yet literature continued to shape how he tried to understand his patient’s experiences and, ultimately his own. “Neurosurgery attracted me as much for its intertwining of brain and consciousness as for its intertwining life and death… being so close to the fiery light of such moments only blinded me to their nature, like trying to learn astronomy by staring directly at the sun.” (Kalanithi, 81) The medical culture he was now immersing himself in caused him to struggle to respond as a person dying instead of as a doctor and yet his lifetime of seeking served him well in expressing his experience through the book he ended up writing and scoping out his purpose towards the end.

“It is the differences in meaning, far more than mere differences in vocabulary, that isolate cultures and that cause them to regard each other as strange or even barbaric. It is not too surprising that many cultures refer to themselves as “The People,” relegating all other human beings to a subhuman form of life.” (Barland, 39) This division by culture is easily identified when there are language barriers, differences in dress, or other ethnic markers that turn a comparison between people into a study in contrasts. Maybe it is just as likely that cultural misunderstandings occur when we are almost the same. There is so much to relate to Paul on that when I struggle to understand him, it is hard to remind myself of the cultural nuances. For instance, in a culture that requires 100 hours a week when you’re dedicating yourself to the care of other’s, perhaps a reduction of empathy is a means of survival whereas I, having never had such demands put on me, see only callousness. Paul, upon hearing that a friend died from a car accident after an attempt to save her life, wrote: “In that moment, all my occasions of failed empathy came rushing back to me: the times I had pushed discharges over patient worries, ignored patients’ pain when other demands pressed. The people whose suffering I saw, noted, and neatly packaged in various diagnoses…” (Kalanithi, 85)

Additionally, I wonder if I would have chosen to have a child before I died, leaving my spouse with a permanent reminder of myself and the possible burden of being both in mourning and a single parent simultaneously. His wife also asked him, “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?” (Kalanithi, 143) It wouldn’t only be hard on her; they both struggled with the decision. It’s clear as you read that family is a strong value for him from the very beginning. If I had been his wife I think I would have wanted to have the baby. He writes in reply to her question regarding it being more painful, “’Wouldn’t it be great if it did?’ I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.” (Kalanithi, 143) Indeed, loss is the cost of our commitment to one another sometimes; the price we pay for love. If loving someone more deeply was what made this death harder, perhaps that is the best way one could exit this world.

Another perspective would be that having the child was a form a denial that death was as imminent as he was being told.  In fact, he wrote, “We would carry on living, instead of dying.” (Kalanithi, 144) Paul manifested denial differently than many of us might. He could not intellectually deny that he had cancer, or that he understood to at least some extent the severity. He had become the patient for the very things he treated. He writes: “After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely.” (Kalanithi, 132) He undoubtedly felt it profoundly. But his denial was found in his actions. He stated that if he had a sense of the time he had left it would determine what he would do. Two years versus ten years mattered, but he knew she couldn’t give him what he was asking. It appears he was able to exist in a place where he was more acutely aware of his mortality while generally operating in denial until the birth of his daughter. “Yet there is a dynamism in our house. Day to day, week to week, Cady blossoms: a first grasp, a first smile, a first laugh… Time for me is now double-edged: every day brings me further from the low of my last relapse but closer to the next recurrence-and eventually, death.” (Kalanithi, 196)

Paul writes that he believes he went through the five steps of grief in reverse; that because he knew he was going to die but at the time was unable to know the when, instead of experiencing denial first, he experienced it last. Due to his vast medical experience in the field, he saw the stage of acceptance as being at the very beginning because he understood his prognosis. I would say that while Paul and Lucy certainly experienced that stages of grief, acceptance for them was at the end. “One of the most important aspects of Nearing Death Awareness is the need for reconciliation. Dying people develop an awareness that they need to be at peace.” (Callanan, 137) Before his diagnosis, his marriage was in danger of ending. In a way, the cancer brought healing. “Our relationship was still deep in meaning, a shared and evolving vocabulary about what mattered. If human relationality formed the bedrock of meaning, it seemed to us that rearing children added another dimension to that meaning.” (Kalanithi, 142) To that end, the other important part is legacy, that we have defeated death through our ability to continue on even after we have died. Paul and Lucy managed this aspect of their grief through their child and completing the book together.

These aren’t the only things that changed for Paul towards the end of his life. Voirst writes that “our dying may sometimes provide a new opportunity, that dying may sometime permit… growth and change, that dying may precipitate a further stage of emotional development that had – until now—been well beyond our capacities.” (Voirst, 318) At first he had thought that he could never do surgery again. In the end he realized that his doctor had done what he himself had strived to do with his patients: protect the attributes which they value and empower them to discover what they wanted to do with their remaining time. As he practiced surgery, he learned more about how his illness transformed him: “The tricky part of illness is that, as you go through it, your values are constantly changing. You try to figure out what matters to you, and then you keep figuring it out… Death may be a one-time event, but living with terminal illness is a process.” (Kalanithi, 160-161) In other words, dying is a process that at its best has you discovering who you are until the very end.

We come at last to consider the role that religious beliefs played in how Paul dealt with both being diagnosed and dying.  Although certainly approached in a scientific and academic manner, Paul was not devoid of a relationship with God; he wrote that if he had known God sooner he would have perhaps pursued a pastoral role instead of the one he ended up in. The fact that he saw no proof of God left him in a place where believing in God seemed unreasonable and so he didn’t. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the foundation; he was familiar with Scripture and his family raised him Christian. After searching through much of his twenties, he reached the following conclusion:

“The problem, however, eventually became evident: to make science the arbiter of metaphysics is to banish not only God from the world but also love, hate, meaning-to consider a world that is self-evidently not the world we live in. That’s not to say that if you believe in meaning you also believe in God. It is to say, though, that if you believe that science provides no basis for God, then you must also be obligated to conclude that science provides no basis for meaning and, therefore, life itself doesn’t have any.” (Kalanithi, 169)

Paul reaches this conclusion and saw sacrifice, forgiveness and redemption as the foundational principles of Christianity. This was crucial to helping him deal with his situation, even if he doesn’t appear to lean on it very heavily. This is true also of his lens of seeing Jesus as delivering a message of mercy over justice. Christians understand that sacrifice is a part of their story; Paul responds to his loss of life, time and experience less with anger and more with a zeal to squeeze what he can out of what is left. While he strives, he is full of forgiveness and we see redemption is his relationships time and again.

Christian’s often define faith with language like “assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen,” similar to Hebrews 11:1. To this end, I don’t believe this is a struggle of Paul’s. The way he is built makes supernatural faith hard, but he sees evidence in the world around him that speaks to a Creator who wants our lives to have meaning and purpose. So while his faith might look different, that doesn’t make it any less deep. This is a man who, dying, chooses to create life. To write of his experience dying in order to help others. I do not see a struggle of faith in Paul; I see a man being faithful in his struggle, much like the man after which he was likely named.

Works Cited

Barlund, Dean. “Communication in a Global Village.” Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication: Selected Readings (1998): 35-48. Print.

Callanan, Maggie and Kelley, Patricia. Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2012. Print.

Kalanithi, Paul. When Breath Becomes Air. New York: Random House, 2016. Print.

Viorst, Judith. “The ABC of Dying.” Necessary Losses (Unknown): 305-327. Print.

God is with those Who Mourn

I thought that this class on death would better equip me, but more often then not it highlights how ill-equipped we are to deal with death. How inadequate words are. How necessary the feeling are as you experience grief when you are the one dying or when you are the one who lives on after they’ve passed.

As I look back on past experiences with death, anger is so frequent and so stifled. Our professor says it is okay to be angry at God; that pastors or ministers often discourage it but it’s sometimes a place people have to move through.

I thought quite a bit about it and as I reflect on God’s character, I think my professor is right. As long as we take it TO God. As long as we have a dialogue with Him about what this loss means and what we do with how we are feeling and where His place in that is. Because ignoring anger doesn’t make it go away and stifling it doesn’t put out fires of that kind. However, if we tell people they can’t take their anger at God TO God, they end up taking it out on others.

Yet if we take what we are feeling TOWARDS God, TO God, how differently might things turn out? We get to pour out what we are feeling and maybe God will respond. Maybe your relationship with Him, like many that weather a storm, will be deepened.  Take for example what Mary says, which sounds like there might be a little accusation mixed in with her mourning. Yet she takes it to Jesus:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:32

How about grief? Psalm 102 is a prayer of an afflicted person who then laments to God. Here’s just a tiny peak at what that looks like:

“Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food.” Psalm 102:1-4

See, I think what we see in that Bible is not that we aren’t supposed to feel the things that we feel when we mourn, but that we are supposed to feel it with God. Furthermore, I think that God is there with us in this mourning, whether we acknowledge Him or not (like the theologians I wrote about when looking at the Holocaust). I was at a lecture by Cath Livesay where she made the point that God doesn’t lose His voice, but we sometimes lose our ability or willingness to listen. You might call out for God while your heart still isn’t ready to hear what He has to say to you; just because you aren’t hearing from God doesn’t mean He isn’t with you.

 

Jesus Mourned

As I walk through this class and the death I am surrounded by I realize how ill equipped the average Christian is for those who are dying and those who have lost someone to death. They might even experience shame over their own experience with grief. Perhaps we should consider Jesus’ response to the death of his friend as well as those in mourning:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept.” John 11:32-35

Are some of us not able to relate to Mary in times of loss, going to God and saying, “Lord, if you had been here, this person I had love would not have died.” While it is true that Jesus later, because he was moved again, raised Lazarus from the dead, this was not his first response. Jesus’ first response was to weep with them. He mourned with them. He did not try to get them to skip over the natural state of broken heartedness at the loss of the person no longer sharing this life with them, or ignore the fact that their day to day life would be radically transformed by his absence. He wept with them.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4