Monday, March 31, 2008
On the road again...
Nope, I'm not going on a trip anytime soon; that's not what I meant. This time I mean Providence Road, a main artery here in Charlotte. And the road of life, of course.
Every afternoon, I go careening up Providence Road en route to picking my son up from school. Every day I pass the same buildings and intersections, looking in my rearview mirror for speeding drivers attempting to overtake me; after all, this is NASCAR country. I look ahead for pedestrians attempting to cross in unseemly spots. I look around for the city buses that zip up and down and all around this growing town. I look at the walkers and joggers and cyclists all seeking to attain and/or maintain some inaccessible standard of fitness. Kristiana sits beside me and we chat or we listen to my Ipod or we tune in to our latest addiction, National Public Radio.
What I don't do nearly enough is pay attention to what is going on around me with the attention it is due. With that in mind, I have begun to make an intentional decision to slow down my eyesight. Yes, I look out for the city buses, but I glance into the darkened windows and try to see who is on the bus. Not that I expect to know anyone, but perhaps I do. Perhaps it doesn't matter if I know anyone; each person on that bus, each person in each car, each person darting across that busy boulevard is worthy of being noticed, being acknowledged.
As I sit at red lights at busy intersections, like the one at Rea Road, I try to imagine where everyone is going or where they have come from: to pick up a child from school or back home after taking a child to the doctor's office. To the hospital to work the night shift or to sit vigil beside a sick loved one. To the supermarket to pick up the ingredients for a romantic dinner or to figure out how many of the basics can be purchased with a dwindling supply of food stamps. Perhaps there is a clandestine rendezvous in the offing or simply a contented return to uninspiring chores after a quiet lunch in the parking lot outside the office building of a dear friend or beloved spouse.
Minivans and Suburbans going in both directions. School buses. City buses. Motorcycles. Trucks.
Power lines. Telephone lines. Pedestrian markers. Traffic counters.
There they all are, passing in front of me the images of an endless loop of film in an abandoned movie projector.
But they are not abandoned. Nor are they forgotten. I see them. I wonder where they are off to and how they are doing. In the car alone, I have sometimes wept with tears of deep sadness when I think of the fact that some of them are driving around desperately looking for work, for a lawyer who can help them find relief from their mortgage crisis, for a doctor who will tell them that the diagnosis of cancer or bipolar disorder or Down's syndrome or spontaneous miscarriage wasn't correct - that it was the tragic result a misread test result.
And sometimes when my vision clears, I look up and see glory. The glorious Carolina blue sky. Unfettered clouds floating by, unencumbered by my worries or concerns. I look up and see the brightly shining sun and know that this too, this traffic slowdown, this moment of universal sorrow, this drought, this anguish will pass.
Indeed, all shall be well. Not always as quickly as we'd like. Not always in the way we'd like. But it does pass. Our tears dry. And we get to look up and see the sun again. Or in our case here in Charlotte today, we get to look up and see the rain clouds.
In sunshine or in rain, I give thanks. (Even more so in rain these days!)
In sickness or in health, I give thanks. (I am glad that the kids and Steve are coming to the end of their coughs. And so far, I'm still cough-free.)
When death appears at my doorstep and carries off someone I love, even then I give thanks: for the end of their suffering, for having known them and loved them for as long as I did, and for the example that has often been set for me of how to die with dignity and at peace.
Speaking of death's dismal effects on those of us left behind, less than two weeks ago, we celebrated the 7th anniversary of my father's death. I do miss my Dad. He died the most dignified, peaceful, quiet, love-bathed death possible, I am certain of it. Lung cancer had made a latticework of his insides; breathing was nearly impossible for him, even with a mask delivering 100% oxygen to his tattered lungs. Miraculously, he was not on any pain medication at the end, but it was his last night with us, and we all know it. Just before 6:30 that morning, we sat him upright in his hospital bed, and he turned to look out the window into the early morning light. Suddenly, he opened his eyes wide, and drew in a deep quick breath, as though he'd seen something magnificent. Just as suddenly, he was gone.
I don't think he saw something magnificent; I think he saw Someone Magnificent, the Savior he'd loved and honored and served for at least as long as I had known him. I was standing beside his bed with my hand in his when he slipped away. I called out for him, even though I knew he had left us - "Daddy, Daddy." Gently I removed his oxygen mask as the tears flowed down my already damp cheeks. Then it hit me: No more oxygen tank. No more glasses. No more arthritis. No more replacement hip. No more dentures. He's dancing and laughing and singing and rejoicing. All is well, indeed. All is well.
This afternoon as I make my way towards Daniel's school, I will look around at the trees with their purple and white blooms, the daffodils and tulips in bloom, and the cars and buses full of people on their way to only God knows where. I will look up into the gray sky and give thanks for the rain.
I will remind myself, probably with tears in my eyes yet again,
that just as these gloomy skies will soon give way again to the brilliant sunshine,
someday all that ails us, all that ails our city, and our nation,
all that ails us all around the world -
all shall be well.