“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end. I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend….”
Yesterday I had a full day. I got up and got dressed and did my usual routine, including the application of mascara. And then my usual routine continued with something bringing me to tears. Feeling tears rush down my cheeks is as common as showering, dressing and putting on the mascara that my ophthalmologist wants me to not wear due to her insistence that I am practically deformed-looking as my eyelids continue to droop in midlife.
So after making a mental note to go buy some waterproof mascara, I took off to go downtown and meet a friend for lunch. This friend and I have been hanging on the topic of fire lately, reflecting on what it means to be on fire and to need to be on fire because there are icebergs to melt (a favorite quote of mine from abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison). Images of fire have been lapping at me in prayer, in conversation, in my mind. In fact I’m doing edits on a book I’ve just written, and the central theme of it is the beauty of being on fire vs. keeping ourselves fireproof.
And there’s so much to say about fire and its uses and roles and dangers and beauty.
But today I’m thinking about the juxtaposition of fire and rain. Of course I’m playing James Taylor as I write this. I have three versions of his song on repeat. And I know all the stories about the song coming from his time in a mental institution and the death of a friend there.
And though I’m not in the institution nor did anybody in my life die, I’m singing that chorus: “Won’t you look down upon me Jesus? You’ve got to help me make a stand… you’ve just got to see my through another day. My body’s aching and my time is at hand. I won’t make it any other way.”
No melodrama intended. I’m fine. I have a fun, productive day planned. But I’m sitting with the reality of life… of the shadow side of all the bright and shiny striving and hoping and longing; I acknowledge the rain that balances the fire or even douses it sometimes.
I’m thinking about cruising along yesterday on one of my favorite DC streets with an incredible view of the city, looking forward to meeting my friend for lunch and then an afternoon and evening with other great people and other good work. All was well with the world and with me, and then I was just crying, crying, crying. And the mascara was flowing and stinging and burning my eyes. And my nose was turning red.
It may have had something to do with passing a group of toddlers wearing t-shirts indicating they were part of a program in one of our local shelters for homeless families. And though they were adorable and freshly scrubbed and happy looking as they toddled along, my heart did throb a bit over the inequity in this city, in this world, between those kids and the ones a few miles west who will spend their days (and, actually, lives) with vastly different prospects.
It may have had something to do with the memory from the day before of sitting in a chair getting a pedicure while watching starving children and their mothers in Somalia on the big-screen television.
It may have had something to do with a conversation the night before with a very good group of people about where we belong and what forms us and my own realization of the admixture of loss and joy in that realm.
And I was struck with how poignant life can be, even in the best of circumstances. We don’t have to have tragedy for reality to touch us with its ache.
We can have mountaintop experiences and then descend to normalcy with such speed that we get a case of the bends. We can have such a deep connection with dear people that, when our time with them is over, we just long for more as if we were gasping for oxygen. We can have all we ever wanted and somehow know there’s even more to be had.
Everything good in this life is a beautiful, incomplete approximation of the perfection of what will be when God has restored it all one day. And our souls just know it.
Deep down we want that consummation of a perfect new heaven and new earth. We want the deep intimacy that comes when all our longings for connection are satisfied, when all pain is ended, when all tears are dried up, when all injustice ceases. We even want to live with the integrity that we aim for instead of continuing to insist on our own luxury at the expense of others.
This is a sort of homesickness for God communion, now and forever. And I am feeling it so deeply I could explode.
I feel it even as my fun car propels me to beautiful people. I feel it even though my desk looks out over a gorgeous tree in which two cardinals have landed to cheer me as I have typed this. I know that ache even as I have good and meaningful work to do in a comfortable house with air conditioning and fresh water and enough food.
I admit the homesickness even as I am one blessed woman, on fire and excited about my life, energized to do things that I hope will matter.
I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain. And they both have their place in a life in touch with reality.
But some days reality is a little too much for me. So I put on James Taylor, admit it to you, let the tears flow, and march on.