Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fully Known

While I was in Oregon earlier this month, I had the chance to spend some time at the gravesite of my friend Nathan, who died in a car accident last fall.

The last time I visited his grave, he had only been buried for a week. There was no headstone, only a temporary name plaque to mark his place. There was nothing but sand and weeds—and the elk had already come to eat the flowers and trample the ground. His grave mirrored the condition of my heart: Broken, empty, and heavy with grief.

I didn't stay long that day. I whispered a few words, choked back my tears, and walked away. I had hoped the tangible evidence of his death would bring some measure of closure to my heart, but as soon as I saw it, I realized I didn't want closure. I didn't want to see, to know, to feel the finality of this loss. But it was too late. I did feel it. And I have never stopped feeling it since.

My recent visit to Nathan's grave was different. And yet it wasn't.

As I pulled into the cemetery, I couldn't bring myself to turn off the car. I didn't want the music to end, didn't want to face the silence, didn't want to be alone. After a few moments, I gathered my courage and climbed out of the car. For the first time all week, the sun was shining brilliantly and I was thankful for its presence.

As I made my way towards Nathan's grave, I began to wonder why I was even here. What did I hope to find? Healing, comfort, answers? And what was I going to do when I got there? After seven long months, was there anything left unsaid, any tears not cried? I didn't know.

Even from a distance I could see that much had changed around Nathan's grave since the last time I was here. B and her family had worked hard to bring some semblance of order, hope, and remembrance to what had previously been so desolate. I took my time looking over each detail, reading the words, trying unsuccessfully to gather my thoughts.
 
B had chosen a small stone bench and placed it at the foot of the grave, and it was here that I settled myself as I waited for the words to come. Again I was thankful for the sun warming my face and the breeze constantly moving, gently breaking the silence. I studied the words on a stepping stone that had been placed on Nathan's grave:
And suddenly I knew what I needed to say.

I told Nathan that his death has changed my life, changed my view of God, changed the person I am becoming. I told him I have always loved him as my brother and how much I regret never telling him that while he was still alive. I told him what it has been like these last seven months, how broken I have been, and how far from God I now find myself.

But I also told him I am grateful. Grateful for the tearing down of my misconceptions about God. Grateful for the burning away of the things that matter less in light of eternity. Grateful for the chance to start over in my spiritual journey.

And I told him I am hopeful. Hopeful that I will heal. Hopeful that I will reconcile with God. Hopeful that I will be stronger, wiser, and more beautiful in God's eyes when I have found my way through this valley.

I wanted so much for Nathan to speak to me. I wanted him to tell me that he is okay, that he is safe and happy. I wanted him to tell me that he does not miss us the way that we miss him. And I wanted him to tell me about God, tell me how to find Him, tell me how to move forward.

But of course, Nathan cannot tell me these things. Some of them I must simply choose to believe. Some of them I must find out for myself. Some of them I will never know until I leave this world.

So instead I told him about the tree I planted to remember him by. I told him how this little tree nearly died over the winter and, in the process, nearly broke my heart. But I told him how it had come back to life in spite of the bitter cold and how I hoped that my story would be the same. I promised that someday I would come back and tell him the end of my story.

And then I remembered.

He already knows.
"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."  ~ 1 Corinthians 13:12
Yes, Nathan knows fully, even as he is fully known. And someday I will, too.

2 comments:

  1. Very moving, Courtney. We appreciate your openness as you go through this journey.

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  2. I stumbled upon your tribute to Nathan and was quite moved. Thank you; your poetic nature shines through. I was actually googling 1 Cor. 13:12, a very comforting passage to me. Even though my own spiritual journey is a struggle, St. Paul's words remind me that I am now an imperfect being stumbling in the dark; but one day, the work will be done and I will be welcomed home into the light by a loving creator who "fully knows me."
    My knowledge these days fails me, but my faith sustains me. And I have faith that Nathan knows your thoughts.

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