I didn't know I'd write about this today. Then again, having tried not to, I should have guessed. I'm a marker of passages. I know dates like I have a calendar full of sticky-notes in my head, date after date when things happened. Some big, some not so, some two at once.
Fifteen years ago yesterday I said goodnight to my dad, walked down a hill to a motel where I crawled into bed beside my sister, listened to our mother snore in the bed beside us, was awakened in the middle of the night by the strange knowledge that the door to our room was ajar. Barely got any sleep (I did laugh hysterically at my sister at that moment in the wee hours when she got up to check the hallway, flipped the light on and off and on and off...like she was trying to beat the speed of light back to bed!).
It was not an ordinary night, of course. Our dad was lying in a hospital ICU. But he'd been himself when we left him the night before. He'd said goodnight and 'see you in the morning,' and nothing anyone could tell us made us think that those words were any different than the hundred thousand goodnights he'd said all our lives.
But fifteen years ago today, I woke up to a world where he was already half-way to heaven. By the time my sister and I walked back up the hill to that hospital, his blood had spilled and his heart had slowed and our lives were changed. For good.
I've been thinking of how strange it is to have lived 15 years beyond his life. To have raised my children to adulthood without ever talking to him about their college choices, their professional opportunities, their dreams and hopes and visions. Without talking to him of my own. His voice was the most clear and rational voice in my life, the one I could trust to see me without blinders but encourage me to be my true self. To think of not hearing his voice in all these years...how can that have been?
I can no longer hear his voice, you know. Now and then I hear a single word reminds me, but not his full voice. And I don't know what he'd look like as an old man. But, as I wrote my siblings today, if I heard his voice right now, I'd recognize it, and if I saw him in a crowd I'd know his face. That's how well I knew him, how certain I am of who he is...and how much I still miss him. Even after all this time.
We lose those we love. That's the truth of this life. Just today a young woman told me, "I don't know what I'd do if I lost my parents." The thing is, sweetie, I wanted to tell her, it's not a question of 'if' but of 'when.' People stop living on this earth. Others I know, when writing a message about someone who's died, use the acronym--R.I.P. Rest In Peace. This is not a phrase that comforts me, nor can I really understand how it can comfort anyone. The last thing I want to believe is that those I love are endlessly resting, like they're in some kind of eternal coma...
No, what comforts me is the knowledge that life continues. But it doesn't merely comfort like someone is comforted by the idea by a fairy tale ending after a terrible climax to a story. The glory in the story about those who believe--like my beloved Dad--is that where they have gone is where they were meant to be, to their true home. "We are citizens of heaven," we're reminded by Paul. We may get our passports the day we're stamped with His blood, but we don't get to pass the borders to His land until we stop breathing the polluted air of this world and take a deep drought of the fresh air of Heaven. Think for a moment of how it feels to enter your home country when you've been away. You suddenly have all the rights and privileges of that citizenship, are free to move around, to do and say and BE what you were made to be. No visa required. No work permit necessary. You simply get to come in, stay, because you belong. That's what heaven will be like for us. Beyond all the unbelievable joy at being with HIM and amazing fellowship of being with all the others who love Him, will be this rich contentment that we are home at last.
So as I say goodnight to this 15th anniversary of my father's death, I'm imagining how content he is in God's heavenly Kingdom now. But I'm also being reminded--right this moment as I type these words--that I'm in the Kingdom too. Dad and I still live in the same Kingdom. We still have the same citizenship and carry passports bearing the mark of Jesus. Yes, I've lived a long time without him now. And I'd still give a whole lot to have another conversation--and a big welcoming hug--with my dad.
But that's for me, not for him.
I think he's waving his meaty hand at me at my silliness anyway, "Don't you know that a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years a day?" I imagine him asking.
"Time is immaterial now. You'll understand soon enough.
Relax. You'll be fine. You already are fine. But you have to go now."
That's what I imagine him saying.
And on the day I pass that border, he'll be part of the throng around the Throne. I'll delight in seeing him...well, when I get around to noticing...
because I'm guessing it'll be a long time before I can take my eyes off the ONE I finally see face to face.