An Unassuming Scar: The Inextricable Link Between Birth and Death

imageJuly 9th was my mother’s birthday, the first since she passed away. It arrived within days of #AltonSterling, #PhilandoCastile, and the #DallasPoliceShootings.

Sorrow was thick.

I thought about my friends who are black. I thought about my friends who are cops. I thought (again) about how I didn’t need to look for a birthday present for Mom. Man, I just wanted to stop thinking for minute.

The normal numbing of social media only made me feel guilty for not knowing what to say or do. It compounded when I realized I really just wanted to ignore Mom’s birthday altogether.

On a strangely related note, my wife and I were talking over the phenomenon of belly buttons. Our daughter is obsessed with them. One day while she was poking at mine and making a perfectly tenored belly button sound, we began to ponder why God gave us such random physical markings. Why the umbilical cord? Why the unassuming scar? It must be a reminder of our fashioning, the crafting of our birth in the womb of a mother.

Then our normal chatter gave way. Suddenly, I reentered the moment I had stood in front of Mom’s casket, awkwardly processing for the first time that the physical embodiment through which God birthed my life was now dead. No matter how alive I feel sometimes, like when my daughter brings it in for a big hug, or when our next baby cartwheels in my wife’s belly, when Mom died something indescribable in me also died.

Birth and death. All around me.

I don’t mean to be morbid. Really, I would rather not be. I would rather not sometimes think about dancing with my daughter on her wedding day when I’m swaying her to sleep at bedtime. I’d like to be distracted enough not to remember I promised my wife she could go first and avoid living with goodbye. I never wished to see mortality’s stamp on everyone and everything I’ve ever known, to feel a twinge of finality in a song’s end, a vacation concluded, and a last bite taken. But it’s there.

In Ecclesiastes 7:1 Solomon, contrasting wisdom and folly, wrote that “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.” Honestly, I have no idea what that means. But I think I’m starting to learn. In life under the sun, death will abide. To see it all around, to acknowledge it and grieve it, somehow wakes me up wiser from a depression nap. The more I know my need, the more I resign to God’s supply. The more I know death, the more I want life.

In the obviously hellish days of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he captured the audacity of life blossoming in a world of death:

For here in the midst of the final destruction of all things, one desires to build, in the midst of a life lived from hour to hour and from day to day, one desires a future, in the midst of being driven out from the earth, one desires a bit of space, in the midst of widespread misery, one desires some happiness. And the overwhelming thing is that God says yes to this strange longing, that here God consents to our will, whereas it is usually meant to be just the opposite.

God says yes.

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