Tuesday, August 16, 2005

"The Battle Doors are Open!"

I don't know why we must grow old and die. Sometimes there's injury or disease to smash the delicate body we casually control. If not, we endure the awful humiliation of slowly losing each power of body and mind, till it seems nothing is left but the helpless naked soul drifting out of sight.

My father, once dignified, strong, and wise, now shivers in a bed he cannot rise from, and can only speak by fits and starts. He knew my name, but could not tell that I was there. At night he called for my mother and my sister--and for the dog he once pretended to disdain because a dachshund wasn't a real dog. And from some unknown distress he warned us that "The battle doors are open!" Only God knows if that was memory or metaphor.

Every power we thought was ours by gift or by mastery, we find instead was merely intrusted to us for a while. Money slips away, and we cannot sign the checks to guide it any more. We spent eager hours learning to drive a car, and that skill slips away in confusion and sluggishness. Even the simple joy of swinging your legs out of bed in the morning is only on loan.

Some of us die as my mother-in-law is dying: crippled by bone cancer and with her mind blurred by exhaustion and the pain-killers (or blurred by the pain when the dose is wrong). She too cannot get up without help, and just getting into a wheelchair seems a crazy risk of her brittle bones. She still has lucid times, and with patience you can collect the threads of her conversation. But lucid times are fewer and the exhaustion eats more of her day.

Our parents are still there, of course, even if more helpless than the babies they once were who could smile and coo. They wait for the final humiliation: that they cannot even keep themselves alive. And who knows what eyes will watch God's judgement of the choices of our souls?

They are going the way their parents went before them, and we will follow them. May we have mercy on each other. And may God have mercy on us all, and reclothe us in glory.

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