Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I was sitting in a chair bent over with my head on the edge of the bed, too tired to sit up straight. Across on the other side was my sister in law Lynne in the same position.  Between us, her husband Ron, breathing as one who was close to the end.  My father in law, Joe, sat, with his back to the wall at the end of the room.  We had been keeping vigil with Ron as he struggled these last hours in the hospital, finally succumbing to 1.5 years of cancer.

We all fell asleep.

I was awoken by the strong sense that someone had just left the room, it took me a moment to realize that Ron was no longer breathing.  I quietly called to Lynn, also waking her dad.  We all spontaneously stood up - the moment seemed to call for that type of reverence.

I talked with Lisa that night on the phone, she was too pregnant with our second to travel, and I wept. I was overwhelmed by the moment, the privilege I had of being there, of experiencing it, and realizing I had been there before, with Lisa, when our first son Sam was born.

The experience of being with Ron when he died was remarkably similar to the arrival of Sam, which had taken place two years prior.  Both of those times marked the essential passages in a life 'from the forceps to the stone' as Joni Mitchell sang.  To see life ushered in, and to be present as it left, gave me a clear sense that this life is not linear.

In the room that night with Lynne, her dad, and Ron there was a strong, strong sense of something else going on - just as there was at the birth of our son.  Cultures around the world build ceremony and ritual around birth and death. As humans we recognize most vividly at those times 'the other'.  The mystery.

Over the years I have become so much more comfortable with the idea of mystery.  That is not to say that mystery is a euphemism for things I can't explain or understand.  I see it as a description for things that transcend explanation or understanding.  Religion seems quick to want to label the what, or why, or how.  As does science.  As does philosophy.  Its very human to want to figure out our world.

I find increasingly that the best theological answer for me is "I don't know".  Not knowing used to drive me nuts, but now it seems so much more honest.  There is much mystery 'between the forceps and the stone' and I feel so fortunate to be in the midst of it.



  1. i like the mystery idea. i think it is what drives us. somehow its everything distilled. you can live being completely unaware. or you can live trying to be so aware and seeing it in everything.

  2. 'everything distilled' - I like that.

  3. Rory, I love the intimacy of this story and the passion for life in the midst of death. I don't believe you can have a true pleasure and joy of life without having a reverence and respect for death. One blesses and makes meaning of and for the other.

    This year, during the week of my 39th birthday, I did a memorial service for a 39 year old mother of 3 children. I am still grappling with what it means for my life. How do I understand the work of the universe that brought these two events into relationship. I don't think god caused the woman's death. I don't think any of it was about me. I do think there is a gift here in the constant unfolding of the universe. I think that this is a new opportunity for life and the renewal of life.

    For me mystery is the creation of life in the midst of death in the midst of life in the universe.