Sunday, June 29, 2014

when pain is our guest

Something happened yesterday that I always prayed would never be something I would experience. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, heading home on the two-lane highway from the second day of the weekend agility trials. A group of about half a dozen young men and boys were clustered at the foot of a long, country driveway, holding and waving political signs. Their action did what it was intended to do--it attracted my attention--and in that brief moment of turning my head to take in their presence, a dog bolted from the other side of the road into the path of my car. 

I hit the brakes, too late, felt the thud of impact, and immediately negotiated a place to pull off the road to go back and check on the dog. As I opened the car door I caught a glimpse of the dog's tail being raised, one last salute to life, and then it was still. I ran the 100 feet or so to its body, knelt beside it, and the tears began to gush. She was gone. Across the street a car had pulled over. Some of the sign-wavers had disappeared up the driveway to report what had happened to others in their party. A woman called over to me, and I stood and made my way across the road. 

The dog was a stranger to this rural cluster of neighbors, following a few folks around for a handful of days up until now. She had likely been dumped recently, seeking companionship and hospitality where she could, and spying the frivolity of politics there on the roadside, decided a good time might be in the offing. Such was not to be the case. 

The woman who had called out to me made me her priority. Was I okay? I nodded between sobs. Did I have dogs? I nodded again. She smiled, knowingly. "There was nothing you could do. It isn't your fault," she repeated again and again as I wept. No one seemed to know what to do, and I was gently urged to go on home. I gathered what composure I could, went back into the road to retrieve some pieces of the car that had separated at the time of the collision, walked back to the dog with a final apology and my regret, and got back in the car to come home.

To say that I was distressed would be an understatement, and after arriving home twenty minutes later and sharing with Ken what had happened, I began to make the progression from reaction to assessment. I was hurting, deeply, but the grief that was spilling from my core was beginning to ebb, and I was able to assemble the pieces of what had happened into an understandable whole. I began to breathe again, and be still. There were practical realities to address (there was damage to the car), and I had been gone for two days. The rest of my small world had its own pace and was moving forward.

As so often happens when the ordinary of our days suffers a traumatic interruption, the divine insinuated itself on my behalf. This morning our plans included being in church where I was filling in as celebrant for absent clergy. Another colleague was preaching--my role was to make holy things happen at the appointed time--and I settled in to listen to his sermon on welcoming and hospitality. He referred to the variety of guests who make themselves at homes in our beings, and the necessity of making space for them and embracing their presence. He wasn't referring to the the kind of guests with whom we dine and offer bed linens, but visitors who come uninvited--the likes of anger and resentment, for instance. He stressed that hospitality was about creating and providing space for whatever guest was present with us, and to be open to the gift the guest brought into the abode of our heart and soul. And, most critically, when we offered our hospitality by creating that space of being, we also opened a space for God to be present as well. 

Ahhhh. I had already asked myself the agonizing question regarding what might be instructive for me in this incident on the road. I don't subscribe to the belief that "everything happens for a reason," which isn't to say that meaning can't be found buried within the crevices of the events and experiences that make up the lines of our lives. Now, however, as I sought to embrace the difficult reality of what had happened, I could rest in the knowledge that I was likewise embraced by the God whose love I cherish above all others. The devastating tear that had ripped through my soul was already beginning to heal, and this uncomfortable part of my story would now be laced with the graciousness of God's care. 

I had thought, initially, that I wouldn't talk about what happened yesterday. I wanted the pain of it dealt with privately, shut away from my efforts of building my life up. But now I know that what is instructive about it is that being hospitable to that which we would shun and turn away is the path toward healing, and the grace of redemption. And that, dear friends, is worth sharing.
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