Faith, life, Parenting, relationships, Spiritual Encouragement, Uncategorized
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To Make Art of Our Tears

“When we respond to our names, or call someone else by name, it is already the beginning of community expressing the image of God. To call someone by name is an act of prayer.”  Madeleine L’Engle

I stood near the front window staring through the panes. The crabapple tree, still in full leaf, shaded the nearest corner of the garden. A gentle September breeze ruffled through the boughs and gave the leaves a little shake.

I was watching my son, the youngest, who crouched low to the ground in the corner tucked up near the house. He lifted the shovels, and the pulled back the tarp and gazed into the hole I had dug, the hole made by the scraping of two spades in the earth. I had held one, my older, grown son, the other. We scooped earth earlier in the day, wordlessly working, the only sound exchanged was the gritty scrape and slough of sandy soil against steel.

Our work done, we retreated to opposite ends of the house. We cried. It was a hard, weird job to dig that hole, but we had to do it.

In the small gape of the deep hole laid our sweet cat.

He’d been struck by a car early in the morning and our neighbors spied his gray-furred body on the side of the road. He was in repose, actually, one front paw over the other, looking like he might be sunning himself on the warm asphalt. But he wasn’t. My husband walked down the lane the short distance and scooped up the little creature and brought him home. Dad would be off to work and mom, me, would have to face the day of sad news and sad kids and the very practical question of what to do with a dead kitty cat.

Against the backdrop of current events, this one small loss barely registers as a micro-drop in the bucket of human sorrow. Just last week, the internet exploded the devastating photo of a baby, washed ashore, drowned as the family sought refuge across the Mediterranean Sea, trying to get to a land free of war, a safe place to raise children. And here we are crying over a cat.

Before that, a police officer was shot execution style at a gas station.

This week my mom called and told me they’d be making the call for dad’s testing to be done, new pictures to be taken of the plaque blocking his carotid arteries.

It seems we’re dropping like proverbial flies and racing to exterminate one another.

Yet the very real loss of this little cat is cutting me to the quick.

We all know cats are egocentric, moody, selfish creatures. Studies have been done about how little they care for us, yet our hearts melt when we see the baby fluff kittens and we simply love their purring noises and funny personalities.

I stood at the window and watched my son learning to love and lose and care and hurt and practice this process of being human because of a cat. And his learning how to care, even through the tears, and learning how to keep going – this is what breaks me and blesses.

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As I watched my youngest son—still so small, still waiting that growth spurt that will make him less recognizable as a child and hints at the man to come—tears blurred my vision. He kneeled and gently pulled back the blue tarp, lifted the cover and had his small, precious moments saying goodbye.

He looked at death, and tears roll from his cheeks and splashed in the dirt and his small shoulders shook.

I am witnessing the sacred and turn away.

***

In the cool of the morning, the garden of Eden bursts to life. Long before sunup, the winged creatures began to sing and call and gather in treetops.

A day of naming commences.

It was no small thing that God gave Adam work to do, a purpose to fulfill, even from the start. The act of naming was an invitation to the goodness of creation. The act of naming gave value to the creatures that roamed the earth and took to the air and slid through the blue waters. The act of naming drew a connective thread from God to man to beast and back to God.

I am Alyssa. I am Mom. I am Darling or Dear or Hon. I am the names I’ve been given in love. I’m not Daughter #7, or First Wife. I’m not some hyphenated, abbreviated numerical notation in the book of life.

I have a name. Alyssa.

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And the Bible tells me I have a name that Jesus has given me, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them.” {John 10:3} My name, My God-breathed Yawweh-given name, ascribes me value, links me to my true identity. It is my promise name given by a promise-keeping creator.

The act of naming was good.

It was no small thing that Adam and Eve were to care for the things that God had made. So much life, so full a planet of amazing, living things. The significance of this connection would help Adam and Eve understand the extent of God’s love for creation, how invested he was in his work, and how much they mattered because they were part of his creation and purposed with partnering in the protection of the world {Genesis 1:28}. The significance of their purpose would draw a hedge of defense about them, draw them into his creative pleasure and help them to stand against the invitation of the enemy to doubt the perfect balance of this creation.

The God-given purpose of intentional investment was good.

Yet they fell and shame moved in, and living things – leaves and skins – died to become useful for covering the vulnerability of their nakedness.

Everything changed and the naming ended in bitter benediction.

Joy was replaced by sorrow and pain and suffering. Cain, the first son, raised his staff and struck dead his own brother, and worse, felt no sorrow, wept not one tear from a broken heart of compassion. He saw the stiffening corpse of his brother and only thought of himself. Self-preservation became his only goal.

And God looked for Cain and Able and asked, Where is your brother? Cain spat, positioned himself in nonchalance and quipped, Am I my brother’s keeper?

God answered his rhetoric with a question of his own, What have you done?

Why yes, Cain, that’s the point. You are your brother’s keeper and he is yours.

God grieved the death, knees in the filth of the blood-soaked earth and sent Cain away from the sacred.

We are Genesis 2 creatures living in Genesis 3 reality with Genesis 4 consequences.

***

So I turned from the window and gave my son his moments of grief. He came in and trotted downstairs. I decided today would be a good day to make an after-school snack, something comforting and kind, like grilled cheese sandwiches.

I spread the butter and sliced through yellow cheese, found the skillet and turned on the heat. I made sandwiches and listened to the butter sizzle and watched the bread grow golden. I cried a bit and prayed.

And after a while, my boy, this smallish boy with a giant heart came into the kitchen. He had turned his tears into art and in his hands held a painting of our cat, curled in a dark gray circle on a teal background. His neck bore the red ribbon of his collar.

He spoke the word, “Atticus.” Repeated the name of the loved one lost.

His painting became the vulnerable words, “This is good. I made this thing and it is ours. And it is named.”

We hugged and I thanked him for turning the tears into something we could all love and remember and enjoy. We ate cheese sandwiches.

***

All six of us stood in the garden in the twilight. The cars on the highway in the valley droned, a bird took wing and my kids held tissues and stood somber and stooped.

We held a small memorial for a little creature whose ability to receive love taught us all a big lesson: to love is to name is to care is to keep. It is to mourn and to cry, too; and it is to continue to create and care about the living and the dying and the not-yet-born.

One does not need to do anything remarkable to be an object of love. One only needs to be that which it is – cat, boy, mom, dad, human, alive.

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To be loved, named, is life.

To love is to be moved by death, drawn to the dawn, to celebrate a newborn, to be a participant in creativity, to make art of our tears.

To love is to keep one another.

To love is to take part in the naming, to awaken to the purpose of compassionate being and to join in morning song of creation.

To love is to know the heart of God, his beautiful, redemptive heart that lovingly calls us to the corner of the garden where compassion now comes in teardrops, dying and sighing. And in that sigh is the breath of Yahweh, the Inventor of Names, and the promise of life.

 

{cat painting, Nikko, age 10; photo credits: Gemmina Olmstead, Alyssa Santos}

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2 Comments

  1. Kimberly Couey says

    So beautifully written. Such truth was welcomed this morning. What a gift you have, and what a gift you are!

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