In the spring sun this morning, I got to walk my dog and listen to a podcast that (surprise) had me crying. By the time I got home, I had composed this in my head to share with you.
Krista Tippett interviewed Bruce Kramer in an interview titled "Forgiving the Body: Life with ALS." Bruce Kramer died this week, while the podcast was in production, after living with ALS for five years and writing about it. Until this morning, I hadn't heard of him, read his blog, or read his book, but I feel sad that he's left the world.
Easter's coming up. I stopped having what Christians call an "atonement theology" a long time ago. I don't believe Jesus died because God sent him to earth to die. I believe Jesus was executed because we couldn't handle the love he brought to the world. Just like MLK, Oscar Romero, Gandhi, and other Crusaders for Love. So what's left for me at Easter is not about sin. It's about suffering and about how Jesus suffered simply because to suffer is to be human. He didn't take the spiritual bypass, try to wriggle out of having a body, being connected to his mother, his brothers, his friends, feeling the pain of rejection, hunger, loss, or injustice. He was with it all.
So when I hear Bruce Kramer talk about his suffering, I connect it to this time of year and all the truth and longing there is for us if we open ourselves to it. These aren't all his words, but here's what I'm taking away from Bruce's experience:
Gratitude and Sadness go together. And sadness isn't desperation or depression, but simply being with the reality of what is. When we're most deeply grounded, we often feel, at the same time, overwhelming gratitude and deep sadness. Those are the moments when we know we're really alive. This is what the "flight into light" folks miss. It's not about the power of positive thinking, which won't get us closer to what we crave and need. It's about being with what is, even if it's shadowy.
Our personhood has nothing to do with what or how much we produce. I can't imagine completely losing the use of my arms, my legs, and my ability to breathe on my own. But Bruce can, and he and his wife said they would never go back because of what ALS has taught them about the beauty of life. Read that again--they wouldn't go back!
Those of us without physical disabilities have no idea what we take for granted and how blindly we stride through the world. Bruce talked about "the look," the look that he used to give disabled people and that he often got in the last 5 years of his life, a look that conveyed, "All I see is your disability, and I need to look away from it." We miss so much! The whole person, the complexity, the profound "hidden wholeness," as Parker Palmer would say, that can be found in brokenness.
Fighting disease and brokenness won't get us anywhere. Accepting them will. This couldn't be more coutercultural. We are addicted to fixing things. We don't know how to ask the questions or live with the uncertainty that will bring us closer to love, to one another, to the most essential things about life. And disease, disability, and catastrophe show this up in us. Only cultivating a receptive interior life will shore us up when we need it.
I feel really humbled even trying to say anything about this. I haven't known these things the way Bruce or some of you have. But still, I want to try. And I want to send great love and tenderness to Bruce's family as they mourn his death, and love and tenderness to anyone, anywhere in the world, who's living with suffering in all its forms.
I leave you with a favorite poem, maybe one I've shared here before. Christian Wiman wrote this while living with cancer. Yet another soul that knows what it's talking about.
Small Prayer in a Hard Wind
As through a long-abandoned half-standing house
only someone lost could find,
which, with its paneless windows and sagging crossbeams,
it's hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,
seems both ghost of the life that happened there
and living spirit of this wasted place,
wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
that is open enough to receive it,
shatter me God into my thousand sounds....
P.S. That's Wyatt and Loretta up there after doing some basketball drills together on a recent evening. Whenever I say goodbye to them in the morning, I am in awe of their presence in my life and how that is both my greatest joy and might be my greatest undoing. The gratitude and the sadness.