It’s Halloween, the eve of All Saints’ Day and with All Souls’ Day the day after. It’s always a tricky time of year for me, with the leaves dying on the trees, the shortening days, and the anniversary of Mama’s death. My mind was already full of thoughts about separations and goodbyes, and this just focused those thoughts. I have learned about saints in the liturgical calendar, have known a lot of souls and some I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend for sainthood, and some just ordinary folks.
Throughout my life, there have been a large number of goodbyes. Some have not been too hard; those are the folks who have briefly passed through my life and then we have both moved on to other things and other relationships: my school friends, people I knew in the various places I have lived and worked, and even some internet friends. Some, like the friends from school, I rather expected to keep in touch with, but it did not happen as I expected. I never really expected to see some again, like college, military friends, and most people I worked with. Honestly, most of those I did not want to see again anyway.
There were some that I expected to see again but who died before that happened. Those were more traumatic losses because even though I knew, in most cases, that they were ill or aged or even both, and that there was a chance that I might never see them again. There was always the hope that I would because they were people dear to me, and it did not seem to matter whether I was a child or an adult. I still grieved their loss and missed them very much, even when we did not have a contact that often. There were some that I never really had a chance to say, “I’m sorry” or a formal goodbye, and those I regret. Some losses have left gaping holes in my life that still feel raw and some that have taken a long time to heal. There’s a feeling of separation there, sometimes enough to make me feel the need to be very much apart from people, fearing more loss and more hurt. Many of these are my personal saints, people who have touched my life, often for decades, and who I can only pray for or talk to in my mind. Luckily, I have some who are still with me, and some very supportive souls to help keep me focused and supported.
I sometimes wonder about Jesus. He was a part of life, interacting with people, being intimately involved in the sense of sharing daily life with them, but did he ever feel connected with them? Did he feel an apartness there? I know that his connection with you was total, but even though he preached, taught, ministered, healed, and traveled with people, did he feel a part of the whole or was he too conscious of his separateness, his role as your son and representative, to feel bonded with the mere humans with whom he interacted? Of course he felt compassion for the marginalized ones, the disabled, the ill, but did he sit and joke with his companions? Did he share just plain conversations about any and everything like friends do?
I understand that he was fully human, or that is what I have been taught, but in his humanity did he not have that sense of the divine that made him a person separated from others, even those who loved him and followed him? Did he welcome human companionship or did he act humanly without taking it to an emotionally intimate level? I wonder how Jesus was, beyond the preacher/teacher/healer that we read about in the Gospels. Did he need defense mechanisms to preserve his personal and emotional safety? Was he truly fully human? Or did his divine nature give him that detachment from many of the everyday things that those of us who have no claim to divinity deal with on a daily basis?
I know that Jesus accepted separation from his followers when he experienced his betrayal and trial. I know that the crucifixion was the final act of separation from them and from the life they had all lived before. He rose again, but it seems he never again indeed returned to the relationships he had had previously, at least, not in the same way. How could he? He had done what no one had ever done before. How could he go back to the pre-Easter style of life in a post-Easter situation?
Abba, I know that I can separate myself from other people by choice just as death or choice can separate me from people about whom I care. I can also choose to separate myself from you. I can stand outside the group of people with whom I interact, and I realize I can also do that with you. You give me the free will to do it, even if it would cause you pain if I followed that path. Of all the relationships I have had or ever will have, the one I have with you is the one that I really cannot afford to sever and from which I cannot walk away. I may not enjoy being separated and isolated from other people, but to separate myself from you would be death to me.
Selfishly, I am not ready to die yet – not physically, not emotionally. I can be a part of this world yet separate from it, but I cannot exist separately from you. I can have relationships with other people from time to time, but the one ongoing relationship that I must have is with you so that I can live and not be just a shadow. I can trust you even if I cannot do so with other human beings. I can cling to you and not overwhelm you. I can love you and have it be quite appropriate. I can be myself with you because you already know all my flaws and weaknesses. And with you, I never have to say goodbye.
Please help me to keep that connection with you firmly in my mind and heart. Without it, I am totally lost.
Image: A Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid (detail), Johannes Vermeer, ca. 1670, found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.