It’s been an interesting Lent. My task was to look for joy—which doesn’t sound like a deprivation. But cynicism and disillusionment are easy for me; optimism and joy are hard. I didn’t take myself off of all social media, just Facebook. (It’s hard to find joy if you’re inundated with outrage, and it’s been a season of outrage.) Human events did not bring me joy, but nature did.
The wet winter ended the drought and ushered in several desert superblooms, which got the social media hashtag #flowergeddon. We went, we saw, we got the allergy-triggered migraine. But it was beautiful. There was joy.
About three weeks ago, I found a few black, spiky caterpillars in the back yard. I was worried they’d get trodden underfoot by the dogs. “What do you want? Where are you going?” I tired putting them up on the cinderblocks. But hey were on a mission.
They crawled up the siding, attached their butts to a wide wainscotting, and turned into chrysalis. What an amazing thing. The neighbors in back had over fifty chrysalis hanging under their deck, the garage eaves and any ledge with a decent overhang. The first hatched last weekend. About half have flown the coop, so to speak. I am hoping they will stay nearby and return to lay eggs.
Human events weren’t entirely disillusioning. I got to work on a TV show, do some improv with a friend, and work on a writing project with friends in Nashville. The TV show may turn into future work, and I have some other job opportunities brewing. I wonder if I’d have experienced these if I hadn’t made the decision to look for good things. Or at least, not appreciate them much.
Lent always leads to the inevitable: death. As a middle-class white American, I’ve been spared the horror of death my ancestors went through–famine, migration, epidemic, war and the like. (Don’t we feel outrage when someone dies before they’re 80?) But as my own body begins to betray me, as family and friends leave the planet, as world events bring the specter of war closer, I am reminded of what my priest said when she put the ashes on my forehead. “You are made of dust and to dust you will return.”
I miss my friends and family who aren’t here anymore. I think about the sister I never knew, the ancestors who toiled and prayed and gave the DNA that makes me who I am. I miss my parents more every day. It’s gotten to the point it feels like an ache. I am, as CS Lewis said, homesick for a country I have not yet seen. And if there is no far country, then… as St. Paul said, “If Christ had not been raised, we are more to be pitied.” If you’ve lost someone precious to you, you know what I mean. And this is where nature helps me. When I look at the beauty, intelligence, playfulness, inventiveness of it all, I get a glimpse of the creator behind it.
We will all have to walk that “Lonesome Valley.” Every time I’ve grieved the loss of a loved one, if I tune my inner ear I can hear Jesus say, “It’s going to be okay. I walked on ahead of you.”