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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Breaking the Bread of Belief: Death

jenmichel@me.com

Death (Today's post is the sixth in a series entitled, "Breaking the Bread of Belief." Read about beginning, dust, home, feast and naked.)

All images courtesy of Joetography.

* * * * *

In anticipation of the release of her fourth novel, Lila, I've been rereading all of Marilynne Robinson's novels.

Housekeeping, published in 1980, is the story of two sisters, who have been serially abandoned. Ruthie, the older sister, narrates the tragedies they've suffered and how they've eventually come under the care (if it can be called 'care') of their mother's mentally-ill sister, Sylvie.

The central focus in the novel's scenery is the lake on the banks of which the town of Fingerbone sits. It's the lake into which Ruthie and Lucille's maternal grandfather plunged by train many years earlier, killing about but two of the passengers on board. It's also the lake into which their mother has driven her car over a cliff, ending her life.

At one point, Ruthie thinks of all the dead people who would be brought to the surface if the lake were dredged. "In such a crowd my mother would hardly seem remarkable."

She continues.

"There would be a general reclaiming of fallen buttons and misplaced spectacles, of neighbors and kin, till time and error and accident were undone, and the world become comprehensible and whole."

"Everything must finally be made comprehensible."

To peer into the lake is to see death. And there is nothing more incomprehensible than that.

Today's word is death.

It has been too much with me, death. I was eighteen when my father died unexpectedly, and the world shifted inalterably, disabusing me of ideas of permanence. We do not last. And even the young can die.

I was twenty-three when my brother died, and there's no sense to be made of suicide. Can a human being die without hope? A cruel and terrible question, one I do not answer.

Death is too much with us.

I see it out the car window, watching them stroll by. First, I notice the elderly woman, managing ably with her wheeled walker. In the basket, there's a tied-up plastic bag from the local pharmacy. I notice the care in the knot.

And then I see he's catching up, slower for his cane. He reaches her, sliding his gnarled, mottled hand over hers. Is it a gesture is to steady himself? A habit of affection he's long practiced?

They smile and talk, lowering their faces as if sharing secrets.

I think of death.

And wonder of my own eventual loneliness, should Ryan oblige himself to statistics. What would it be like to grow old without him? To outlive our marriage? The thought sears, and I pray to be spared.

The foolishness of that.

It is too much with us.

If the gospel has meant anything (and it has meant much), it has reminded me that there need now remain no fear in death. Death is no concluding chapter, no punctuated finale. It will have no last word.

"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery," (Heb. 2:14, 15).

Death had been too much with us. And the God-Man took upon himself its incomprehensibility, senselessness, and haunting fear.

He died. And felt the god-forsakenness of being mortal. And on the third day—

Time and error and accident began to be undone, and the world started to become comprehensible and whole.

On the third day—

Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

On the third day—

Hope.