Monday, December 25, 2023

Club, Box or Something Else - Michael

 I now belong to something I have never wanted to belong to. I have been on the outside of this thing, but I have spent a lot of time listening to the brokenhearted describe this reality. I have counselled many people who do belong - who exist moment-by-moment on the inside. Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and many others belong to this thing, but I was only able to listen and speak to them through a veil that separated me from them. I did not belong; I was outside trying to understand the inside, but I could never actually understand, and, truthfully, as much as I desired to be able to minister to those on the inside, the only way to understand requires that I, too, pass through that terrible veil to the inside. As much as I wanted a solid point of contact, to be empathetic, to minister to those on the inside, I could never be on the inside of this thing. 

On 23 October, 2023, this changed, forever. I am now on the inside. I, along with my family whom I desperately wished to protect from the emotional, psychological and spiritual ravages of the inside, have also passed through "the veil." Life will never be the same. Some may say this is a bit dramatic - I may have said the same at some earlier point in my life, but I realize these are the voices of those who are on the outside of this thing. They do not and cannot understand because only those on the inside truly "get it."

The tow truck driver brought Josiah's car to our place a couple of weeks ago. He knew Josiah. "Big Daddy J" was his nickname around the apartment complex. The tow truck driver had towed a lot of vehicles out of different apartment complexes for Josiah. Then he said he understood what we were going through. I could feel questions rising up within me. "What do you mean you understand?" my inner voice shouted. He went on to tell his own story. It was a truly horrendous story of profound loss, pain and grief - it was of the same substance as nightmares. My heart melted. He indeed did understand. He truly did belong. He was on the inside.

We have run into countless others who have walked through the evil of humanity, the brokenness of the world, the ravages of events beyond one's control; they have been forced to march through the darkest moments imaginable; they, too, have passed through the veil, this rite of passage to the inside which truly changes a person. No one ever says they are "over it and ready to get on with life." It is a thing that haunts your steps, visits your dreams, startles you in the midst of a mundane moment, casts it ominous shadow during a casual conversation and invades moments of forgetfulness with images, voices and memories of "the veil."

I have struggled with what to call this thing. I have described the rite of passage as a veil which gives only blurry images to those outside of the veil, but how do I characterize or describe those who have gone through this rite of passage? Certainly, not a a like civic club - there is an implicit understanding that these clubs are either for fun or for a purpose - maybe both, but this is neither. Not a fraternity either. A fraternity can be joined by going through a rite of passage - some sort of an initiation ceremony, but one can elect to leave or to fail the test, the rite of passage and, thereby, be excluded from the fraternity. So, not a club nor a fraternity. 

Maybe it is like a support group. Those involved in support groups have something in common with which they are wrestling, but this cannot be it either because these groups gather together by choice after a defining event or because of a common denominator of some sort. Generally, these groups have someone leading it who may or may not have walked down this same path. More than that, those in support groups go to these meetings because they are seeking answers or help or fellowship. The support group is a response to a trauma rather than the source of the trauma. Not all who are on the inside are pursuing such goals, but the rite of passage is ubiquitous to all who are on the inside. I do not discount the value of support groups at all; I am merely saying they do not characterize the larger group.

Perhaps it is more like a box, a box with transparent sides where all of life can be seen, but no, this is entirely inadequate because there is no separation between those inside and those outside except that those who have passed through the veil bear a mark. 

A mark. Yes, this, I think, is the answer. It is a mark upon the soul. Those who have passed through the veil are marked by the veil. They are marked by a deep sorrow that fills lonely moments with unattainable longing and with pain deep inside of the soul for which there is no relief. They, we, I travel about this world and in moments cross paths with others who bear this same mark of grief, of loss, of a life ripped out of fellowship from us, of a beloved one whose voice is silenced and whose life was cut short in a moment of time. This mark is seared, as if by a red-hot branding iron, by the veil, but this mark is generally not visible to the eye.

I will tell you there are many without this mark, who are outside. Some of these call to those with this mark and declare that they understand - they do not. Unless you have passed through the veil, unless you bear the mark of this devastation in your life, you can never truly understand. I know there are those who stand outside with a genuine desire to help, but to their credit, they realize they are, in fact, on the outside - without the mark on their souls, and they should never wish to fully understand because to truly understand means to pass through the veil themselves.

There are others who call to those who bear this mark of grief and loss to just forget about the pain and get on with life - IT DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!. The only way out is to finish the journey. There is no turning back unless one were to deny this new reality and do violence to one's own psyche. There is no turning to the left or to the right. There is only going through... Psalm 23 reminds us of this - it is only on the other side of the valley of the shadow of death - after we have passed through the valley - that there is a cure for the soul. This remedy can only be found in the presence of the living God, gathered together, dwelling in His house forever where pain and sorrow are no more. Healing for a wounded soul is only found in eternity.