(Excerpt of a letter from Ben Franklin to the widow of his brother John Feb. 1756)
“That bodies should be lent to us is a kind and benevolent act of God. When they become unfit for these purposes and afford us pain instead of pleasure – instead of an aid, become an encumbrance and answer none of the intentions for which they were given – it is equally kind and benevolent that a way is provided by which we may get rid of them.
Death is that way … Why should you and I be grieved at this, since we are soon to follow, and know where to find him.”
When our hearts are wintry,
Grieving or in pain,
Thy touch can call us back
To life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead
And bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat
That springeth green.
(From “Now The Green Blade Riseth” by John. M. C. Crum)
I recently spent hours in A and E with my granddaughter, her third bout of severe chest pains in two weeks. Even the consultant couldn’t find the cause, though they were able, from numerous tests, to rule out many things. Only strong analgesics are able to stop the pain, leaving her unable to have a clear head for her A levels (she missed one altogether the morning I was with her). Doubtless stress is adding greatly to her condition.
I felt dis-empowered. All I could give in the way of comfort were empty platitudes. You see, riding the tide of being an outstanding, straight A student, she has embraced extreme and antagonistic atheism. She now feels “religion” is for the ignorant and gives her little brother a hard time about his simple faith.
I’ve been blessed with so many infallible proofs that faith comes naturally to me, but I can still remember the dreadful pressure of purely self-reliance before I came to know God. My greatest joy at salvation was the realisation that there was a power beyond me and it was loving, benevolent. I knew my own inadequacy and that of my fellow humans. Minus God we were without hope.
She looked to the doctors to “fix” her and grew angry at them when they couldn’t help. But doctors are not God, just sincere human beings, overworked, and often sick or in pain themselves (the consultant shared how he himself suffered severe back pain and just had to “grin and bear it” so he could tend to others, encouraging her to go ahead with the A levels regardless.)
Normally I’d offer prayer, phone others to pray for her, remind that God was in control and would take care of the A levels, but I could do none of these. I prayed silently for her but it was hard to have faith for a miracle as I had the feeling that God may believe the lesson to be more important than instant healing. I know He loves her and is working in her life, that He will take care of everything long-term, but it’s hard to see her suffer like this knowing comfort and help are so close by.
My youngest daughter expressed a while back that even if God were not real she’d rather go through life believing He was because of the comfort it brings – the de-stressing element. I know what she means. Not everyone has been blessed with seeing all the miracles we have but my heart aches for the true atheist, all alone with nothing but his flawed fellow man to fall back on, shouldering the horrors of this world knowing in his heart he is powerless to stop the hate, the suffering, even in his own life. Our choices can change a great deal but they can’t bring back the dead, heal a child, deal with all the hate and greed. Man tries to be his own God, he endeavours, often sincerely, to help his fellow man, but the honest heart knows how far we fall short – life has a way of teaching us, at that point, without a force beyond ourselves, how empty and hopeless the void.
Drowning in words she headed toward the cafeteria.
“Kate, I heard what happened, I…” Kate waved the comment away. She couldn’t handle any more. Changing course she stormed through the fire exit.
Fingers fumbling she lit a cigarette glaring defiantly at the office windows. They meant well but…
A chill wind stirred the leaves amid the vacant cars, a comforting emptiness surrounded her. Trapped in her brain words kept pounding, trying to get out, a surging tide they engulfed her entwined together by the statement “It’s malignant.”
“It’s not fair…” she muttered to the leaves. The tiny words, finding a crack, forced outward like water breaching a dam.
“It’s not fair! I don’t want to die!” she yelled, the wind scattering words like leaves about the plot. She glimpsed anxious faces pressed at the windows. Sinking to her knees she covered her face as shameful, angry tears enveloped her.
Leaves rustled in the early morning breeze, the trees seemed to quiver at her approach as if in sympathy. She had to go, come to her special place, the place she felt the comfort of eons.
Sitting beneath the old oak that had sheltered her as a child she let go, face in hands, sobs rending the silent stillness. When she could no longer hold on to her smile, when she felt the pressure build to an unbearable pitch she came here.
John was slowly wasting away and there was nothing they could do to stop it. His giant frame that had once carried her across the threshold was now worn and shriveled like a deceased nut in its skeletal shell, skin stretched over bone in lurid relief, a travesty of her man.
She had to smile for him, had to go on loving till her heart tore in tiny…
Slamming on the brakes Dee pulled into the curb. Scrambling down the rocky incline she breathed hard, her starved lungs seizing ravenously on the fresh salty air. Wrestling off her stilettoes toes wriggled luxuriously in soft cool sand. Before her stood the ocean, as vast and all-encompassing as it had ever been. Eyes long encased by concrete décor feasted on space, on blue and emerald… At last here she was alone with the ocean. It hadn’t changed.
Sitting on a rock she thrilled to the cold shock of the waves around her ankles, giggling like a school girl. She cared nothing for the salt spray staining her Dior skirt – she was free! It was all behind her now, the career, the smashed relationship, even the arrogant brats she’d mothered for so long, even them for this moment. Perhaps later she’d bring them here, perhaps they’d understand … perhaps… They’d never been hers, not really, no more than Phil had been hers, she’d been merely one in a progression of stepmothers, to be used and discarded. Gazing down at the diamond studied wedding band on her finger she wrenched it off watching with grim satisfaction as it plummeted beneath the tide.
She could have sold it reason argued. No. She wanted nothing from him, nothing. It was over. She was free! Removing the scarlet headscarf she tossed her remaining curls in the brisk ocean air. They were thin now; the radiation had decimated her beauty but not her spirit. Whatever time she had left she’d spend it here beside the ocean reliving her childhood dreams. A single tear escaped. No she would not weep, not any more. She’d instead relish every moment. She’d hire a companion, there was money of her own enough for that … perhaps an old friend… they’d walk the beach together and dream and reminisce till the last grains of sand trickled from the glass…