Car accidents involving older drivers fascinate and draw censure, especially if fatalities are involved. Such stories evoke relief in others that it wasn’t them, but fear-seeds their psyches. Prayer for God’s protection behind the steering wheel deepens.

For several years, that had been my experience. But last summer’s honking as I rolled through a blinking red light at the entrance of rehab still rankled. “The humidity dulled my awareness,” I said to myself, despite coughing and shortness of breath and sweating palms. Often, I had wondered what circumstances would crowd out years of driving. How would I live without my 1999 Toyota Camry? Though old, it was in good shape. The same mechanics had serviced it and advised me to hold on to it.

I still remember picking out my used car on the lot at Enterprise with its odometer reading of 12,000 miles, its sand-sleek body, and its smooth test drive. There followed nineteen seamless years of driving, in all weathers. But in recent months diminishing energy led me to welcome rides from others. I did not want to make the headlines.

Already within the momentum of disposing stuff, I remembered my car, drawing dust in the garage, its battery having been replaced. The decision was made for me—it had to go.

Its new owner fell into my lap. An East St. Louis church was looking for a used car to transport their seniors to Sunday services and doctors’ appointments. After I received the agreed-upon payment, I handed over the title and watched my Toyota being driven away. I was content.

 

In the wake of my decision to participate in hospice, albeit palliative care, stuff was emptied from catch-all drawers, linens from closet shelves, clothing from hangers, tools and supplies from the kitchen and garage, clutter in the medicine cabinet and vanity—anything I wasn’t using. From lower shelves of bookcases, I emptied thirty loose-leaf binders that contained analysis of dreams and retreat notes, recorded since 1988. Within three days, a paradoxical fullness filled my home’s emptiness: I was content.

True, my heart did pang as untouched watercolor materials for beginners were bagged up: palette, paints and brush pins, guidebooks, pads of watercolor paper, and tape. A workshop, years ago, had made this art form look so doable, but I never took the time to practice the techniques.

It’s not as if I had much stuff to dispose of, however. Limited energy had restrained the accumulation of clutter: it was too much to look after.

I had also adhered to the decades-old counsel of a wise woman: “The greatest charity that you can offer those you leave behind is to have your affairs in perfect order—no messes to unscramble, no guesswork.”

It’s all about making room for more life to burgeon and flourish. This is Creator God’s work.

 

 

“To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened (Luke 13:20-21). Jesus likens this pedestrian image to the kingdom of God, an image unique in his teachings and often expressed in parables.

During the time of Jesus, Palestinian women always put aside moldy bread or leaven—a kind of poison—for the daily baking for their families. Only the smallest amount was used for their loaves that ballooned in the morning sun. But Jesus speaks of this woman hiding leaven in three measures of flour, enough flour to fill a warehouse with bread—an absurd exaggeration, until his listeners catch on. Jesus is referencing humankind’s relation with God, in all his disguises. Such parables inflamed the imaginations of his listeners: they would remember.

I, too, had a similar response to the parable, one that recasts my terminal illness in a different light.

Like the leaven hid in the flour, terminal disease hides out in my lungs, imperceptibly hardening their airways and compromising my breathing—a slow process, admittedly, but relentless in its damage. Yet, paradoxically, this disorder continues expanding my passion for communion with God, within this mysterious kingdom.

Just as the fire of the bake oven transforms the dough, the fire of diminishment transforms the psyche: critical processes to be endured. This is Kingdom living, both here and hereafter.

 

A small fire at night.

 

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