Electric electronic communication

  • November 7, 2013

Recently I received an e-mail from a person who died many months ago.

My heart stopped when I saw it was from Bobby. Everything was suspended. Including knowledge. Including time. For an eternal moment, it was pre-12 November 2012, before I heard those un-erasable words over the telephone — “Bobby is dead” — and Bobby was e-mailing me with a laugh thanking me for my birthday greetings.

Then, in another eternal moment, it was November 2013, Bobby was laughing and thanking me for my birthday greetings, and the rest of it never happened; he never took his life, I didn’t sit silently watching his parents choose his coffin or see his grandmother, my mother, slowed and stiffened by age, bend and kiss his smooth, cold hand, or witness his handsome young siblings and friends gather that evening in a funeral parlour.

Then, another moment, again November 2013, Bobby was sending laughter to me, not the delightful, talented and anguished Bobby we knew, but the Bobby whose head rests on the bosom of Christ, whom our eyes cannot see but our hearts sometimes glimpse, more solid, more real, larger, clear-eyed, filled with light and power.

My heart stopped, or perhaps all this occurred between heartbeats.

As six seconds ticked by, eternity opened itself and looked out at me, or I looked in.

Then time started again, and my brain reminded me that the year-old note from my nephew had been forwarded to me by a relative with a question attached. “What becomes of prayers?”

This year has taught me some things. Death is real. If anything at all in the universe is real, then death is real — or else all is illusion. It’s implacable, remorseless, a power beyond any power we could dream of. The Gospels are clear in showing us the reality of Jesus’ death. It was no act, no illusion; stark, final. His broken body died. His breath left it. The point of Christian faith is not to help us imagine death away, forget beloved bodies or avoid the pain, humiliation and anguish of dying and death. We celebrate our martyrs, not because they didn’t die or didn’t suffer in dying, but because “love for life did not deter them from death” (Revelation 12:11).

Those words, “Bobby is dead,” have never been taken away, never lost their weight, even as other colours, other notes, have come into them.

Death is real, and our death matters, and so does our suffering. The priest who gave Bobby’s funeral homily reflected on Mary Magdalene standing weeping at Christ’s tomb (John 20). Sometimes it seems she’s an icon of human existence: we stand weeping at the tomb, afraid, lost, unknowing, abandoned, bereft.

In her weeping, Christ Himself stands beside her, unrecognized. He is on His way to His Father (and our Father), having broken the lock of the tomb, having brought life into the depths of hell. In the very moment of salvation, God’s Word returning home, having done what it was sent to do, before Christ ascends, all creation waits — so the priest told us in his funeral homily — Christ keeps salvation waiting to comfort the tears of a human being.

To show this one woman that death has not been ended, but changed. It is claimed by God, by life, by love. “Love is strong as death,” the Song of Songs tells us. Love is stronger than death, the Gospels tell us. What a claim! If we don’t face the truth of death we’ll never be able to face the truth of the Gospel.

Christ pauses on the way to the Father to respond to Mary’s tears. And then gives her a mission.

Our prayers (and our actions and our health services) did not keep Bobby on Earth with us. Our prayers didn’t keep him from unbearable suffering, nor his family from a suffering deeper still. They have thereby become greater witnesses to life and love. And those prayers haven’t ceased flowing and they carry the love, pain, hope of people on Earth to the heart of Christ. It may be that they strengthen our vision, hone our eyesight and heart-sight. How else can we learn to see in the mirror, darkly?

The great and sad mistake of many people — among them even pious persons — is to imagine that those whom death has taken leave us. They do not leave us. They remain! Where are they? In darkness? Oh, no! It is we who are in darkness. We do not see them, but they see us. Their eyes, radiant with glory, are fixed upon our eyes full of tears (Karl Rahner).

Our faith urges us to contemplate the reality of death. To pray without ceasing. And to receive on Earth the life of Christ who waits, too, for us to seize it and carry it to wherever death and suffering seem to hold sway.

(Marrocco can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca.)