‘First the colours
Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things.
Or at least, how I try.
HERE IS A SMALL FACT
You are going to die.’
I finally finished ‘The Book Thief,’ by Markus Zusak.
I started it many times last year but the prose of the narrator, Death himself, was too perfect, too real, describing what I saw everyday in the hospital corridors with such precision and the truth that this might be happening to us was too eerie, too haunting. I put the book away time and again but when I finally picked it up, this last time, I could barely put it down until I had drunk in every word.
Death is not the enemy. Maybe the knowledge of its impending nature is in fact the greatest gift? Maybe we need to acknowledge it more? After all, as Zusak writes, it’s a fact; we are all going to die. Maybe if we were to exist, as if we were dying, we would adjust our focus, pay attention and really live.
Maybe the decisions we make
Each morning would be different.
Maybe we would taste our coffee
And the jam on our toast
Maybe we would hear the bird’s song,
feeling the breeze on our face
As we step outside,
Maybe we would smell the freshly cut, grass
On the school oval instead of complaining
That we were on duty again
Death makes you sit up and notice and hold onto life. To weed out all the things that don’t matter anymore, to make time for all the things that do. You can’t make more time really but you can rearrange your priorities to do what is important. My friend Mick explained to me that in Greek mythology there are two types of time: Chronos time and Kairos time. Chronos time, he says is unsatisfied and ravenous but Kairos time has purpose, it sees time as a gift and instead of asking, “What time is it?” The question is asked, “What is this time for?”
I find myself asking this question now. Instead of being constantly caught up in all the necessary things; even though life is busy, with work, with hospital, with family, with friends, with connect group and church I seek to find the balance to just be still and to see that He is God. He holds the whole world in His hands.
I’ve been raised in a culture that always dreams about tomorrow but now, after this journey; I feel more than anything I have learned how to live in today, moment by moment. Switchfoot sings, “Today is all you’ve got now, and today is all you’ll ever have.” It’s not really profound to say that tomorrow never comes but how many of us live for the flowers of tomorrow without really nurturing the seeds of today?
My Kindergarten children really struggle with yesterday and tomorrow. I laugh when they tell me “Tomorrow I went to Grandma’s house.” Or “Yesterday I am going to start soccer.” They have no real concept of time. “Is it lunch? Is it maths now? Is it time to go home?” they ask me all day long. I try to keep a fairly structured routine, to make their day a little more predictable, to give them a sense of safety and security. In return they give me perspective and delightful insight into the simple wonder of every day.
How long has it been since you last lay on your back and watched the sky? My friend’s 11-year-old son says, “The sky looks like a painting and each day we walk under a new artwork.” My pastor brings this to my attention every morning as he photographs the sunrise and sends it out via Twitter. “His mercies are new every morning.” How good it is to be reminded of this. When we look up and observe the sky we can make many predictions. I watched it every day this week, looking for signs, wondering what it was trying to say?
Driving home from hospital on Tuesday afternoon, my heart was heavy from the things we had found in this week’s blood results. I remembered an expression of the Lakota Sioux people that says, “Sometimes I go around pitying myself. And all the while I am being carried on great winds across the sky.” I looked up and stretched out on a blue sky were puffy white clouds and the bottom edge looked like they’d been soaked in pinkish red. I was reminded at first of cotton balls dabbed with blood, ‘perhaps this is the seeping from my broken heart,’ I pondered but in the next moment I remembered the words of one of my Kindy kids. She told me that the best thing about the school holidays was having her fingernails painted, not once but twice. I could see the cotton balls soaked in the polish and with that image the stain was removed from my heart as well.
The children in my class draw pictures to illustrate their stories. At the top of the page they shade a line of blue and at the bottom of the page, a line of green, in the middle all is white. I take them outside onto the oval and I show them how the sky bends down to meet the earth. We discuss all the colours, we observe the sky peeking through the trees. Sometimes the sky is white, like cotton stretched out, with dark blue clouds. Sometimes the sky is baby blue with white clouds sailing past and though it is always changing, the sky always meets the ground. I try to help the children see that there is a horizon and that there is no empty space. The sky is full and complete and connected to earth. As I tell them this I am aware of how present God is, how full, how colourful, how he doesn’t leave any gaps.
Sometimes the story God is writing over my life is not the one I want to read. I need him to be my teacher, kneeling down beside me at my desk, helping me decipher all the little bits I don’t get and helping me to create a story out of all my random words and thoughts. “What do you think it says?” I hear him ask me in the same way I question the children. He listens patiently to all my spoken words. He smiles at me, looking again at my page. “Yes,” he says, “I can see you have included that word and you have almost created another one there, that’s a great effort, enough for today.” He isn’t mocking me. He is working with me, helping me grasp all the little bits that I do understand. It is enough. There will be more time tomorrow and there will be a fresh page and another story to record.
Sometimes there are signs in the sky. My dad always told me that ‘a red sky at night was a shepherd’s delight but a red sky in the morning was a shepherd’s warning.’ Sometimes there is meaning in the sky but maybe the signs are there to simply make us look up, to take time to notice all of creation. My friend was taking her daughter for tests on Thursday and the sky was soft blue, innocent and clear. I prayed that this was an indication that all would be well.
In Matthew 16:3-5, Jesus said, “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”
So what does the sign of Jonah mean? I am no Bible scholar but I can see that Jonah tried to avoid doing the thing that was hard, the thing he did not want to do. Yet when he was obedient, though he suffered, through spending time in insignificance, God used his life. He became a type for Christ, who also spent three days in the belly of the earth, just as Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale and both learned obedience through the things, which they suffered. This was the will of God. Ultimately it was about resurrection, redemption and doing God’s will. Sometimes what He requires of us makes us angry, sometimes it is not fair. Sometimes death comes at the end of a long, satisfied life but often it comes without warning. It aches in the core of our being, it eats us away, we wring our hands, we curl over in disbelief. With time the memory fades a little but grief never completely goes away.
“To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter or purpose under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die” but it’s not as simple as it sounds.
T.S. Eliot writes
“And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”
But J Alfred Prufrock was a fool, plagued with procrastination.
What if there is not time?
How would you live today?
Would you do life differently?