I met a 93-year old man who requested a bible. He moved so slowly trying to figure out where the book of Acts was and what chapter he left off reading. He mourned his age while being thankful for his health. He said, “hardly anything feels the same.” His wife had been 10 years deceased. He asked me if the 8 X 10 picture of her had followed him to the hospital and made it on the wall behind him. He later found out he had left it at home. I’ve scarcely met a man so in love. He told me that the 12 years prior to his wife’s passing she was confined to wheel chair after suffering a stroke. He cared for her changed her, and he’d have it all back again if God gave him the chance. They had been together 63 years; he wished he had more time with her.
The English poet Tony Harrison wrote a series of poems Long Distance 1 and 2 which recounts a man mourning his mother and father’s passing. His mother passes first, and the nature of the poems focusses on his father’s life without his wife, how his routines didn’t change and how he played the game of pretending she was around in order to maintain a sense of normalcy in old age. It reminds me how hard letting go of things we love or think we love is. But there is a part of love that must make room for letting the beloved leave or go because I believe it is the test of determining if love is real. Love is what’s left after you let go.
The prodigal son, the Song of Solomon, the Gospels. God in his design has somehow wanted to demonstrate the power of love despite distance. In each of those stories and lives there is a separation and a love that endures despite separation. There is a certain love sickness that keeps us yearning for the B/beloved and somehow that affliction reminds us that it’s real. Love is painful in this life because it is costly. Love is costly because it requires forgiveness and forgiveness necessitates that something prior or presently is lost or forfeited to maintain relationship. Yet that loss is not to be feared for the sake of the gain of reciprocated love.
I don’t often cry in pastoral settings, but I couldn’t shake that the only two things this man wanted at 93 was his Bible and his wife. He made me feel that if those were the only two things in the world he had with him, it would be more than enough. It makes me more certain that despite all the other things we might have, none of it is enough without love.