I spent the other night in an ICU room with my mother who appears to have had a stroke. At this point there is no way of knowing how much of her memory and facilities will return. As a minister I have spent countless nights in just such situations with others. In some ways this is very personal, but at the deepest level, I feel surrounded by the memory of those who invited me into their lives and into their deaths. Thanks to their generosity, these evening seems strangely familiar. We all imagine ourselves to be living out a personal story, but in truth we are being swept along by a current we often ignore, the river of life.
I am listening to my mother breathe in between the beeping machines and the chaotic intrusions that constitute modern hospital care. Underneath it all are the eyes that never missed one of my baseball games, nor one school play. Those same eyes are now staring at me as a stranger. The arms that held me so many times are now bruised and strapped to her bed rails so she does not tear out any of her numerous tubes.
As a human I am an orphan tonight, but I feel strangely connected to life, to my mother, and to the two nurses, one kind and one gruff who watch over her tonight.
Sometime in the night, my mind flashed back to boyhood memories of a field that lay just behind our house. I did not know it at the time, but that field became my core metaphor for life. Whereas my Sunday School teachers said to “consider the birds of the air,” meaning that God never gives us more than we can carry, the field taught me that “considering the birds” meant realizing that the bird which today feasts on insects, will someday be a Luby’s Cafeteria for the ants.
The field showed me that everything that is alive today was been born from what had previously died, and what is alive today will someday, through its death, give new life. At our birth we are breathed out of the field, and at our deaths breathed back in. The field taught me that we plants and animals are more like folds on a blanket than separate objects.
So whatever happens on this evening I know my mother is returning to the field, if not this evening, soon. Nor do I feel myself an orphan on the outside of the field watching my mother either get better or worse. What I love is not in peril. Our two breaths, and every other comes from one source.
What is it we are afraid of losing? What is it we love in one another? An immortal soul? A combination of molecules? Or is it the field?