Some time during the evening on Saturday I first noticed the little wisp that floated into my vision. It looks like a pen and ink drawing of a cloud, or a thin line of black smoke, except it has a certain bounce to it, based on my blinking, that makes it do a little dance and float down and then back up to the top of the frame. I learned today at the eye doctor that my smoky little dancer is called an eye floater, and that it’s probably here to stay. What looks like it is hanging out in front of me is actually something going on inside my eyeball, in the vitreous humor, and is part of growing older – at least for me. The humor in my sight is a bit twisted, it seems.
When we were in Texas for my mother’s surgery a couple of months ago, a friend came by to see her. He is a cellular biologist, which is actually a bit of a misnomer because he is way inside the cell dealing with particles smaller than I even know how to imagine. I asked what he was studying now and he told us they had just gotten a new microscope that allowed them to see exponentially deeper into the cell and its subparticles, and he began to tell us how these submicroscopic parts of us open up related to our emotions. When we feel good, they are open to receive nutrients; when we are angry or sad, they close. Then he said something even more interesting: “They open up the most when we laugh.”
Raymo tells of an Mediterranean creation myth that says God brought everything into being with seven laughs: Hha Hha Hha Hha Hha Hha Hha. (46) As he goes on to speak with his continuing sense of wonder about the universe, he says,
God’s Hha Hha Hha was no snicker, but a roaring belly laugh. (50)
I love the idea of all creation bursting forth in a fit of divine laugher. I picture everything from the giggles that made monkeys, the chortles that produced platypuses, and the guffaws that gave us hippos. By the time God got to humans, I picture the kind of laughter that makes your sides hurt and your nose run. I love the idea, and it’s hard to hear on a day like today. My in-laws are visiting this week, which means we are up close and personal with my father-in-law’s continuing descent into Alzheimer’s. This wonderful, gentle man who turned seventy-nine yesterday and has always carried a sparkle in his eye that gave us a glimpse of God’s creative laughter looks empty now. His eyes are vacant; he is in the room and he is not here. His very existence is being insidiously erased while we watch and our hearts are broken. The comfort we find is in watching our Schnauzers gather around him with a love that finds him when we cannot; he sits and pets them and they love him back, for which we are grateful, even as we are exhausted by the prospect of what is yet to come. As we prepare for Christ to be born again, we are also trying to prepare for the grief that is yet to come. It’s hard to hold wonder and weary together.
Yet what are the options?
Madeleine L’Engle tells of being asked at a workshop for high school students, “Do you really and truly believe in God with no doubts at all?” She answered, “I really and truly believe in God with all kinds of doubts.” (63) She continued to talk to the students about the three choices we had about how we live our lives. We can live as though the whole thing is a cosmic accident: a bad joke. We can live as though Someone started the whole thing but chose to remain aloof. Then she articulated her choice:
Then there’s a third way: to live as though you believe that the power behind the universe is a power of love, a personal power of love, a love so great that all of us really do matter to him. He loves us so much that every single one of our lives has meaning; he really does know about the fall of every sparrow, and the hairs of our head are really counted. That’s the only way I can live. (64)
My mind moves to melody in times like these, to those words put to music that find a way to carry the strains of laughter that endure across the years like starlight from distant galaxies just now bringing light to our darkness. Richard Thompson wrote
this old house is falling down around my ears
I’m drowning in a fountain of my tears
when all my will is gone you hold me sway
I need you at the dimming of the day
And this from Kris Kristofferson:
there’s a song in my soul for the sun going down
when it dies at the end of the day
with a sadness descending as soft as the sound
of the light that was slipping away
the heavens above me seem empty and gray
as dreams that won’t ever come true
then the star spangled glory of love fills the sky
and my heart with the wonder of you
As Christmas draws closer, we will begin to speak more of shepherds and stars, weary and wonder, if you will, walking hand in hand to the manger: the tired tenders of someone else’s sheep lost in wonder at the angel band.
and ye beneath life’s crushing load
whose forms are bending low
who toil along the winding way
with painful steps and slow
look now for glad and golden hours
come quickly on the wing
o rest beside the weary road
and hear the angels sing
Christmas will come this year without bringing answers of what the days hold for our family and they will also come with reminders that God has never stopped laughing or loving. God didn’t inflict Reuben with Alzheimer’s to teach us a lesson or to prove a point. God didn’t set things in motion and then sit back to see how we deal with it. God is with us. In the midst of our pain, Love has taken up residence to show us the Laughter that brought the universe into being runs deep beyond our sorrows, deep into our beings, feeding our cells and our souls.
for the wonders that surround us
for the truth that still confounds us
most of all that love has found us
thanks be to God