there but for the grace of God
There but for the grace of God go I. That’s what I said. That’s what I thought, any time I would read a tragic story of a family losing a child. We have been through our fair share of hardships, some would same traumas or tragedy, but we prefer hardships. We’ve had our mettle tested, our resolve and tenacity stretched and we came out the other side. But the death of a child? No. We would take whatever else was given us, but not that. That is asking too much. That is impossible.
I’m not alone in this, I know. I, and almost every other parent on the planet hold onto this illusion for dear life. An imaginary bargain we have with God or fate or circumstance, or whoever or whatever you pray to, in your most fearful moments.
“Anything, you can give me anything. Take anything. But not my child.” And we think, if we dare to think of it at all, that a deal has been forged. “Not my child” and the great universe nods in agreement. Okay, you will be spared.
It’s not that we’re special. It’s not that we deserve it more than anyone else, it’s just… Well, then what is it? I suppose for me, as strong and capable as I am, I could never be that strong. There, they are stronger. I simply could not endure. It’s asking too much, pain beyond my capabilities.
There but for the Grace of God go I.
It’s not a promise.
There but for the Grace of God go I in this very moment.
That’s the promise.
That’s all we get.
People tell us “It’s not fair that this happened to you. You’re such a good family/parent.” Fair is what? Earning that grace? Being worthy of a bestowed blessing while others are not? Am I so special that I have earned a pass on the greatest of life’s pain? I am not. You are not. None of us are. There is no ticket to righteous bypass. No promise of anything at all.
You will not pray enough or behave well enough to earn yourself out of pain. There is physical life on this physical planet for a tiny blip in time. That’s what we get. We make evaluations of circumstance and determine if it is dark or light, good or bad. We want all of the love and the light without knowing the dark and the dread.
Strength has nothing to do with anything. We endure out of devotion for our love of this life and our people. We endure because even in pain there is great beauty if we are there for it. That’s not strength, that is sacred devotion. That is gratitude for being here at all.
There but for the grace of God go I - right now.
There but for the grace of God go I - right now.
Allow the sunbeams to infiltrate the dark corners you are trying to hide. Knit yourself into the tapestry of the natural world until you can see no start, no stop. Witness the order in that chaos, the lifting of the illusion - I am me and you are you. Impossible. All of life into death and all of death into life everlasting. That is the grace of God.
There but for the grace of God go I. Right now.
Death is near, hold it in your heart. Keep it close. Stop running from it. Accept that there is no bargain to be made. Death doesn’t bargain. If you think you have some sort of pact with life, allow me to clear the smoke from the air. Not because I want to cause you pain, but because I want to share this gift with you: you will die and everyone you love will die and when you do, you will carry with you all of the moments of your life when you actually lived. It’s the desperation that stretches you out, making more room for the light. Grief trickles down through the cracks in our defences, fertilising the depths where richer, vibrant love and connection are fed long before the sunshine even touches them. Immerse and engage in it all or limit and constrain it all. All or nothing.
I was there for it, with her. Not always, but mostly. The time the sun was setting on the top of her infant head and she glowed with a golden halo. A halo I traced with my fingers and told myself “This. Now.” The way she stood on her hockey skates as a little girl, chin tucked down against her chest and how, even as a big teenager, in moments of stillness on the ice, her chin found that place again. Still so much little girl left in her. Her uncontrollable laugh, bouncing off her papa, when they competed to make up the corniest jokes. I recorded them in my heart, each one. Her head on my lap, the heaviness of her hair, like a horse’s mane, in my fingers. That feeling lives on in the memory of my hands.
We get to keep what we are there for. Nothing else.
Or, run. Try anyway. Zip past it all, fill yourself with diversions and distractions. The shadow remains, even if we silence him. Only now gagged, he is unable to share his wisdom. He points things out as best he can, but we quickly brush him away, too afraid to even hear from him. “Not me”. “Not me.” “Not now.” We lie. We know we’re lying. We do it anyway. A betrayal to our own hearts and a rejection to our solemn friend who will wait nonetheless.
Death walks alongside us all, a wise friend with lessons. Befriend him and he will teach you, remind you. “There,” he will say, “that’s really something”. “Why waste your time on that?” he will challenge. “Slow down,” he whispers, “you just missed the most important thing of all.”
Death is loyal that way.
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