Friday, December 10, 2010

The Tradition of Age

The story of Absalom, David's son, is a sickly one. Told in 2 Samuel 13-18, it reads as a predecessor to Romeo and Juliet, with tragedy telegraphed from afar. The villain dies in the first act of this play, and henceforth the story proceeds slowly splitting our two protagonists. There is Absalom, the handsome son who seeks vengeance upon his brother for Amnon's incestual rape of their sister Tamar. And there is King David, the father who suffered the loss of one son at the hands of another. The story ends with the death of the young.

[David] was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" 2 Samuel 18:33

This story is reminiscent of the scene depicted in The Lord of the Rings; The Two Towers when the old king speaks of how fathers should not live to see the funerals of their children. There is a sincere wrongness to that image. It is a sad thing that contains no resolution.

My Grandmother is 91. She has lost two husbands in the last three years (one died, she quickly remarried, and then the next died). I am told that this past Thanksgiving, as my family came together, a discussion arose as to when Christmas would be collectively celebrated this year. My sister and her family (husband and son) would be visiting the family from Germany until the 24th of December. It made sense then, that the date of Christmas should be changed. This made my dear old Grandmother angry to hear of such rumblings. She has only ever known Christmas to be on the 25th. This is her tradition, this is her life. It is not to be changed. In arguing for her position of the non-movement of Christmas, she appealed first that no one in our family knows what it's like to lose two husbands so quickly. This is obviously a true fact. No one in our family can relate to her suffering, but then again, what does that have to do with the date of Christmas? As a second weapon, my grandmother waged this battle cry; 'I think this might be my last Christmas'. What a blow! Ouch.

I've been trying to understand why my grandmother would say such words. I've been trying to understand. To feel it.

As I struggled for empathy, my mind moved to The Green Mile. Paul Edgecomb, as played earnestly by Tom Hanks, is a man that is cursed with the gift of life. After telling his friend the story of the end of John Coffey, the healer, Edgecomb confesses,
I'm a hundred and eight years old, Elaine. 
I was forty-four the year that John Coffey walked the Green Mile. 
You mustn't blame John. 
He couldn't help what happened to him... he was just a force of nature. 
Oh I've lived to see some amazing things Elly. 
Another century come to past, but I've... 
I've had to see my friends and loved ones die off through the years... 
Hal and Melinda... Brutus Howell... my wife... my boy. And you Elaine... 
you'll die too, and my curse is knowing that I'll be there to see it. 
It's my attonement you see; it's my punishment, for letting John Coffey ride the lightning; 
for killing a miracle of God. 
You'll be gone like all the others. 
I'll have to stay. 
Oh, I'll die eventually, that I'm sure. I have no illusions of immortality, but I will wished for death... long before death finds me. In truth, I wish for it already...
We each owe a death - there are no exceptions - 
but, oh God, sometimes the Green Mile seems so long.
We fight so hard to live. That impulse is very strong. The urge to live is surely the most primal of all of our instincts, our desires. But somewhere, somewhere in time it appears that we begin to yearn for the end. This desire is then accented horrendously by the passing of our loved ones. With my Grandmother, I think when she heard the news of Christmas changing dates, she imagined herself alone in her house on the morning of December 25th. Old and alone. This is her fear -- that the pattern of her love ones physically leaving her will continue. She fears she will be left alone.

A divergent thought hits me as very interesting. We tend to, rightly, associate innocence with children. Why is that? Surely it is because we see children as of yet not branded by the cruelty and vileness of the world. They are too young to have yet been intoxicated by the dirty underbelly of existence. If that's true at one end of being; if it is true that children are the most innocent among us, then is it not reasonable to see our elders as the least innocent? I say this not to condemn the elderly, but to admit a simple truth: the longer I live, the more sins I will have committed.

It only took one sin to separate us from the glory of the Lord, but do we not move further away from Him with every additional sin? Perhaps it can be said with irony (and oh, sweet mercy! How great is grace!) that at the moment of death is when we are least worthy of Heaven.

Umberto D. -- An old man has only his dog for hope in the world.

Amidst the story of David and Absalom, there is a queer little moment regarding an old follower of Saul, David's predecessor. Whilst David and company are on the run from Absalom, some old dude comes out of the little woodwork to throw stones at David and curse him. The man shouts, Get out, get out, you man of bloodshed, and worthless fellow... And behold, you are taken in your own evil, for you are a man of bloodshed! 2 Samuel 17:7-8. David's men immediately surround the stone thrower and ask David if they should cut off the sad sack's head. King David had easily the power to have this man killed, but he simply tells his men to leave the man alone. And so all day long this old dude keeps lobbing rocks at the army and spewing venom out of his mouth. David just took it. I think this is an accurate foreshadow of David's life. God does not allow David to see the building of the tabernacle for approximately the same reason. David has lived long and sinned much.

*I should make a quick point here to note that I am not trying to exert any theological truths here. As believers, I acknowledge that as we accept Christ as our Savior, our sins are counted as rubbish, and that such things as running tallies do not exist within the reign of God's love for his children. However, perhaps I can still make this question: does not sinful behavior have physical consequences as well as spiritual? If I killed a man, yes, the Lord will have forgiven me for such a horrific deed, but I must still reap a physical consequence for my action (in this case, jail or the death penalty). Does not a life of sin slowly weigh on the body of us as sinners? All the more we should await the Day of Paradise.

My reading of the Absalom story was brought about by the listening of a song; The Angel of Death Came to David's Room by mewithoutyou. Listen Here! Check out the lyrics.

the angel of death came to david's room...
he said, "friend, it's time to go"'  angel, no, i think you've come too soon
it's not my time to go

i'm sorry friend, now put your hand in mine 
but good angel, don't i get a warning sign
before it's my time to go?

come now david, where's your grandma gone?
come now david, where's your grandpa gone?...
their time came to go

but i slew goliath with the sling and stone...
it's not my time to go

he'll be waiting for you when we get back home...
it's time, it's time to go

come now david, where's your momma gone?
come now david, where've your uncles gone?
come now david, where've your aunts all gone?
their time came to go

can i tell solomon the things i've learned?
i'm sorry, friend, that's none of my concern
it's time, it's time to go

come now david where's uriah gone?
stranded on the battlefield,
the troops withdrawn
come now david, where's uriah gone?
his time came to go

come now david, where's bathsheba gone?
and where've your binoculars and rooftop gone?
the unexpected baby from the bath night gone?
their time came to go

come now david, where's everybody goin'?

It's a brutal song. Just brutal. And it is right to be as such.

Of Mice and Men - Another old man puts his hope in his dog.
Everything will be ripped from us. We get to keep nothing. Even our best friends, our closest family -- everything in this life has its end. For this reason we must hold tightly only to that which will remain. And what will remain? Only this: our relationship with the Lord. That scene in Of Mice and Men with the old man is devastating because its characters don't know that truth. Remember: there is an old man with only one hand. He has but one friend in the world; an old smelly mutt. Eventually, the mutt is taken out and shot. It might as well been the old man who was shot. It breaks the heart. Do you remember? It will happen to us too. Everything we love will be taken out back and shot. Dead. So then we must take heart and shine our hearts on God, because only He has seen death and come back to us. Remember. Remember. Remember and take heart.

Goodbye, Mr. Jingles.
Hear the words of our Lord!
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:37-39

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