The man on the 4 train…

One dark morning, a decade ago, I stood pressed and yet alone, bucking and swaying on a screaming subway car. It was a cold season. An empty season in the heaving city.

A man in his fifties, sixties- it doesn’t really matter- approached me. His clothes were layered and wrapped around him like the burden of memory and I was at once alarmed and quieted by the passage in his eyes when I looked up from my book.

“Psalm 37 has always spoken to me.” And then he walked out of the flexing doors.

I turn now to those words. In this bright night of tears. In this sharpness of confused rage. I am told that the season of waiting has begun, but haven’t we been waiting? Aren’t we flailing at solid, metal poles just to hear the deafening clang as they clatter to the floor and roll at our feet? Still the train bullets through, night after night into morning after morning. We find ourselves in the depths, where the sun circumvents us in its rising. Where sound is muted by dirt and simultaneously ricochets through the tunnels under the city. Echoes that travel to the graves that hold the brown-skinned bodies buried for centuries, for weeks, for hours, in stolen earth. When will our savior rise again? When will our king overcome? When will our hearts again be warmed by the just sun?

Psalm 37:1-11

“Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong;

For like the grass they will soon wither,

like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;

trust in him and he will do this:

He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,

the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;

do not fret when evil men succeed in their ways,

when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;

do not fret- it leads only to evil.

For evil men will be cut off,

but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

A little while, while and the wicked will be no more;

though you look for them,

they will not be found.

But the meek will inherit the land

and enjoy great peace.”

Common Nonsense

What exactly are “common sense” solutions?

The problem is not obvious. The break is not clean. The parts are no longer available. We can’t fix what we do not understand, what we are ill-equipped to repair.

Ten years ago, my dad called me to tell me that my mom had died. It was a cold February night in Brooklyn. “Is Aaron there?” My dad asked. He wasn’t. “Do you know where to find him?” Yes, what is this about? “Are you sitting down? You need to sit down… Christy, your mom is dead.”

I can feel my heart racing even now. I can hear the world become muffled by a blanket of that falling moment. And then the blanket lifted. Sounds became sharp, piercing. Color radiated and hummed. Texture vibrated. I felt peace and energy and unremitting comfort. This is so good, I told my dad through tears. She is free of the limitations of this world. The brokenness, the despair, the relentless hoping, the unseen faith of waiting and struggle and perseverance. We prayed together, voicing our gratitude for her shared life.

And then I ran.

I ran like one runs in dreams- with the swiftness of purpose, without noticing my breath.

I found Aaron, my then fiancé, in class. He gathered our things, he gathered me, and we drove through the vivid night.

The cause of death was unclear. She had been home alone, reading on the back porch (Her Bible was open to Isaiah 61, amazingly.). She had walked my sister to school that morning, spoken with my dad at several points throughout the day. Nothing had seemed out of place. She was healthy, sound. But when my sister came home and found her lying on the floor, she knew something was wrong. Caroline hid in her room until, not five minutes later, a friend called to speak with my mom. Caroline explained that she couldn’t wake her up and that she had some blue spots on her face. The friend immediately called 911 and came to get Caroline, who was 8 at the time. My dad received the call a short while later from the police and came home with a friend. “She looked cute.” He told me later when I asked if she looked like she had suffered in those final moments. “She looked cute.”The house was treated like a crime scene. Forensic officers were dusting for prints, checking for evidence, looking for pieces. Nothing.

My mom’s body was taken to UVA Hospital for an autopsy. My dad picked up my sister. And then called me.

One week later, there still were no answers. My mom’s body was sent to Richmond for a second autopsy. We were told it would be at least a month before we would be given any¬† indication as to what shut her body down.

There were no answers. The cause was unknown. There were no replacement parts.

And this was an immense and beautiful blessing.

We had been dropped into an ocean of grief, of loss, of confusion but there was no memory of blame, no point of origin. We were here, in this moment, breathing, floating. The ‘why’s’ and ‘what if’s’ were harbored elsewhere, along with their distracting, false hope of rescue. Instead, rafts, life boats of friends and family sailed to us and we bobbed along together.

Eventually, a medical “explanation” was afforded us. But it was superfluous. Basically, it confirmed what we already knew: this was unavoidable and it is final. This we all know. This is our shared knowledge- our common nonsense.

So, loose the weak thread of comfort that we seek in reason. Un-knot the net of tidy solutions. Release our captive souls and those we hold prisoner with our tear-blurred judgement.

Even in the distorted face of a killer, there is the knowledge of pain, the lie of being alone, and the hope for satisfaction. As ugly and horrific and terrifying as it is, we share this pain, these lies and this hope. It permeates our collective, finite humanity. And yet…

Death itself is dying. Decay is submitting to life. Isolation is fading into community. The shredded cords, the frayed ties, our broken heart-strings are woven into the warp and weft of peace.

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