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Like a single grain of wheat tossed upon parched ground, we feel huge discomfit: estrangement from familiar routines, isolation in lockdown homes and solitary walks, the constriction of unaccustomed silence, and starvation for vital nutrients. Gone are the predictable sources of affirmation, save for our pets. Such pain and suffering are getting old: the funny jokes, no longer funny, topics of conversation lapsing into fickle weather patterns. Each morning’s tally of the victims seems to preclude considering our own.

Yet, Kovid-19 intensifies its killing swath like trigger-happy ghouls firing into the empty night. An epidemiologist likened this virus to an unpredictable Mexican jumping bean—no telling where its contagion will next appear.

How face this crisis that seems to have longer legs than first anticipated? How remain intact before its dismembering, despite slow-burning fears roasting our innards?

Back to the single grain of wheat for a response: it must die to its shortsighted will, it must allow the combing of the new deceased, it must scour the heart of stuff, it must acknowledge its creatureliness. With acceptance, comes fresh growth—this is God’s work.

Such life lessons continue informing my hospice experience, soon to enter its sixth month of praying, listening, and waiting. There’s still much to learn.

Jesus also spoke of the single grain of wheat in the Gospel of John. We’re in good company.

A synchronicity of burgeoning occurs for those willing to look: Spring’s coloration and the pandemic’s menace. Both entail energy—one vibrates within jewel-tones of Beauty and the other shivers within denizens of Death. One exalts spirit; the other implodes terror.

Yet, even seeds of dismemberment blemish Spring’s unfolding as subsequent seasons evolve upon the demise of previous ones and address our mortality. Winter’s grieving can be intense, but it does not end there. Spring’s greening arrives with gusto. Such is experienced in Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (1717), a group of four violin concertos that quicken imaginations, that enfold spirits within Beauty’s kiss, that enrich sensibilities, that loosen rigidity, and catapult into deeper Life.

True, the pandemic and Winter snuff out life as we know it, but death in its myriad forms has always lurked behind our blind spots, just waiting. I used to say, “Since our mother lived to be ninety-nine years old, I don’t have to hurry to finish my book. It’ll get done.” But it didn’t work out that way.

Perhaps such burgeoning of energy begs a revision of our concept of God. In the prophet Isaiah we find an astounding revelation: I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. 45:7

Certainly not that God wants our misery, given the miracle of birth and subsequent development. Joy does abound within the fabric of our humanness.

Contemplating such truth orients us to the deepest of mysteries where we experience ultimate Life and rejoice, far beyond our imagining.

 

Nothing like a folk tale to engage imaginations and enlarge the world around us—Such is the Brothers Grimm’s Town Musicians of Bremen (1819), still enjoyed by young hearts, six years old or ninety.

The story begins with an aging donkey, decrying his master’s displeasure over his slowness in pulling the cart to market. Rather than face probable death, the donkey flees to Bremen where he will become a musician.

On the road he meets a weary dog, fire thinning his bones. No longer able to hunt, he fears being put down by his master. But the donkey’s invitation to make music sparks his interest and he climbs onto his back.

Next they meet a cat with a face “like three rainy days.” She fears her mistress’s drowning, because blunted teeth prevent her from catching mice in their cottage. She, too, joins them.

Then a rooster crowing with all its might causes them to pause along the road. They learn that cook will cut off his head and prepare him for tomorrow’s dinner. He, too, welcomes the invitation and they continue on toward Bremen.

Although the story contains other adventures, I want to focus upon the four friends, so human in their fears of aging and the specter of death. Happily, the donkey sees beyond his fate and chooses an alternative: making music for others. So inspired he is that others choose similarly and climb onto his back and head for Bremen where everyone loves music.

It’s about discovering and developing meaning in life that keeps us fresh—even living with a terminal illness. I have found it so.

 

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