Sunday, September 11, 2005

Lost & Found

I grew up a Christian, and therefore I've heard the Prodigal Son story so many times that it has been at various times in danger of losing its meaning. But suddenly the story shifted for me: I stopped identifying with the prodigal and started seeing myself as other characters, in particular the bitter elder brother. This served to soften me to a certain degree, and it challenged me to think about how to be more open and receiving of the differences we all have. If I'm a "Martha," I should only be so if I can appreciate the "Mary."

In any case, yesterday I heard the story again in a Gospel reading during a funeral. "There was a man who had two sons," the priest started and I closed my eyes. I could see two sons. One was lying in a casket at the front of the church, and the other was sitting in a pew next to his brother. You know the story, right? The one brother goes away, squanders life, and returns home whereupon his father kills the fatted calf. Fawns upon the prodigal son.

As the priest read out the story, I could see in my mind's eye exactly why it was chosen. Except the prodigal here didn't return to his parents here in Michigan, he returned to something greater. I could almost see God embracing this young man after his death, soothing his needle ravaged body, bathing him and anointing him with oils, soothing him. I imagined a table being set for him and I could see this young man finally at peace. I could hear God so clearly addressing those in the church yesterday when the Gospel said, "we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." I opened my eyes as the priest ended his reading, the tears that had been collecting there spilled out, drenching the front of my shirt.

Later, the remaining brother gave one of the eulogies-- an 18 year old kid eulogizing his 20 year old brother is too tragic. Too too tragic, but, oh my friends, was he brave. I don't even think he realized how his eulogy followed the Gospel reading, but he talked about how his heart had become dead to his brother over the years. He talked about how one of the only ways he could cope with his brother's horrible addiction was to gradually shut him out. Everyone in the church knew the struggle and knew what he was saying. One of the Missionaries of Charity who was there told his mother what we all knew to be true: at least now she'd know where her son was. She'd know he finally found peace. And then the brother told us how he had opened his heart again to his brother. Can death bring a gift? Yes, clearly. One of the reasons the funeral was so sad was that it so unfortunate that it was death that brought that gift and not recovery, but I learned so much yesterday.

I don't think I'm finished learning about it either. I had a very hard time during the funeral, was visibly shaking and was held tight by both my parents who were flanking me. I will forever be haunted by the cries of his sisters and brother as they closed the casket. I will remember what his father's face looked like, hugging people as they came through the door, but never taking his eyes off his son.

But after the funeral, I will also remember the way their family stood together outside the church, comforting the rest of us.

This morning at church the readings were largely to do with forgiveness, and I thought about this family. Clearly they have forgiven their brother and son the grief he gave them. They could stand up in front of all of us and tell us honestly about his life and their relationships with him. And you could see the love, the total unconditional love.

What magnificent things I've learned this weekend about God's love in our life if we're only open enough to see it. And like most true learning about life (and it ain't book smarts I'm talking about here), it's been painful and wrenching and necessary. And even though we could have all done without the lesson, I'll never regret the learning.


Blogger frog said...

What a beautiful tribute to him--and to all of us, really. Thank you.

8:11 PM  
Blogger amyesq said...

So, so brilliant. I have always struggled with being the bitter elder brother. I still do. That was a wonderful tribute to the whole family. Will email you soon.

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:07 PM  
Blogger Nico said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. I can only imagine how hard it must be to see a young man destroy his life like that.

Beautiful post.

1:25 PM  

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