A decade ago I turned twenty-three. It was Easter Sunday in Capetown, South Africa, I was surrounded by some friends who are my very favourites, even to this day. I felt resurrected that morning, stepping out into things my heart had longed for; we flew a kite, played soccer and wrestled like grown women do. I still remember my birthday card with kind words scribbled in different hand writing and how I would study it over for the next few months. I felt securely oriented, a sense of being led and cared for by the Divine Whisper, things were right in my world and could only get better. I felt Love consume the anxiety-inducing questions of the past four years of learning the world anew through college and I felt hopeful that Love would save us all.
It was twenty-three that saw me fall in love for the first time, with a boy and soon after that with mother and child healthcare in the majority world. I was certain of my steps, I squashed any tumult with reassurances of the things I felt like God had spoken to me and all the signs I had scribbled down in my journal. We would be okay.
It was twenty-three that saw my heart broken deeply, left disappointed with a human being and more-so with the God who I thought had wanted us to be together. I had never known anguish like that before, an indicator of my privilege I know, but the cut was deep and I was bleeding everywhere. My friends carried me through a few dark days, packed my bags and got me onto a plane headed to Lagos, Nigeria and then a bus across that wild green land. I learned about labour pains, the tremendous grief women bear physically to hold joy incarnate in their arms. Supporting women in labour in some pretty terrible circumstances would give me perspective for my sorrow as well as make me tender to my wounds. I wrote out my pain in songs and sang them loudly, I was limping and somehow more alive than ever before.
Three months later I was still twenty-three and in the Nigerian bush, my body was unconscious and tangled with sixteen of my friends in a horrific van accident. Eight of those beautiful, dream-filled, resurrected people died that day, on a Sunday that was more like Holy Saturday.
Where was I was in the hours that I was unconscious? How close was I to death? How close was I to God? Who were the Nigerians that loaded my body into their car and drove me to the clinic that was already overwhelmed with unconscious bodies, what did they think of my traditional purple dress, ripped and blood-stained? Did they pray for me as they drove?
When I woke up for the first time seven of my friends had already died and one more would die soon after. Some survived with life-changing injuries and still wait for healing with the new heavens and new earth.
I imagine my friends who met God that day in December 2005, I imagine if that accident had been a near-miss and a praise report instead of a catastrophe, where they would be. How many children would bear their image, how many people would have been touched deeply by their lives? How much more joy and music and dance would the world have held in this decade, had they survived?
Those next months were brutal and barren and bone-tiring, I did very little but just survive. The disorientation of grief and loss respects no theologies, no future plans. I wished desperately that I had simply died and could not imagine that I'd live to be twenty five or thirty. The potential chaos of the future splashed over all the kite strings and flower beds I had been dreaming of.
I found my way to a Benedictine monastery in the Pennsylvania mountains, I spent three or four days there right before Lent, reading the psalms out loud in the forest, joining with the Sisters for daily prayers and mass, staring at a statue of Mary with a toddler Jesus who looked as though he was attempting to jump from her arms. How did she feel as he grew and changed and began to come and go from her careful watch? Did she have any idea what pain she would bear as she loved him to the end?
I found a stream of living water running through the little chapel and space for me to kneel and drink, nothing else required, no questions asked.
On Ash Wednesday I knelt before the priest in the chapel at the Benedictive monastery where that water ran through and had the ashes swiped on my forehead, first down, then across. "From dust you came, to dust you will return." I faced my impending death squarely and sighed with relief. I would indeed die someday, no one knows when, maybe not even God. But I needn't be afraid of the end, nor of the living in between.
God stood innocent before me, His own heart broken, his own Body torn, His own blood running down, mixed with mine and that of those I loved, mixed with all the blood spilled on this planet even now. It was then that I learned that God suffers with us, a song I'll swear by to this day. He wears our scars in His own and I can feel His scars as I trace my fingers along the few I carry on my body, my heart, my mind. Even in the defeat of death and His resurrected glory those scars were present, palpable, shocking and somehow soothing, inviting us into this space where we don't have to be afraid. "Look at my hands and my feet."
We are waves, we are clouds, we are dust; we are almost meaningless on this spinning planet and we are so infinitely valuable. Even God stoops down to wipe our tears.