Tonight I’ll read the final chapter in the long and wonderful saga that is Kristin Lavransdatter. Among many things in her life Kristin has lost her honor, her wealth, her husband and not a few of her children. She has not lost her faith.
The passage at the end of this post is from one of the final chapters in Book Three: The Cross. I read it last night after getting out of bed and sitting under a living room lamp in the early morning hours. I’ve been doing that a lot lately as we prepare for graduation and the transition that it represents. I’ve stayed up late into the night as I’ve been unable to shut off my brain considering the end of this phase of our lives and the gestation of a new one. In this chair I’ve prayed for my family’s health, in particular my wife as she underwent one form of major surgery in March. I did it again last night because just prior to our senior’s baseball game she had received a call from her doctor’s office regarding the results of last week’s mammogram. Scans had revealed something, and this “something” was enough to warrant concern and a return trip this morning for more tests. So I wait, and gasp for air while grasping at calm.
Each night, and again tonight, I sit in this chair long after my family is asleep. A rosary in one hand with my breviary or my bible in the other. I try hard to remember that no one has added a single hour to their lives by worrying. (Matthew 6:27) Other nights I sit with a finger or two of scotch and spend an hour or so with Kristin and her clan. Tonight will be the last time I do this. As I do whenever I have spent so much time with a character I enjoy and the book is over I will mourn for a little while. And then I’ll move on.
Kristin is looking back on her life from a place that is above the valley in which she has spent her years. Not a physical valley, but the valley that is the story of her life. It’s locations, people and events. It is a plane that I myself ascend to now and then whenever I face a transition such as this. It’s why I use the painting at the top of this post as my avatar in WordPress and other places. Life can get pretty foggy when we’re caught up in the business of living with all its frantic pacing and activity. It is when we are able to make our stand in one place, on solid ground above the fray, that we are able to look across the valley of our lives and breathe in the clarity that comes with the clear air.
For me, it is where I remember that trait or virtue called Gratitude.
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving.
~Don Henley, My Thanksgiving (Inside Job, 2000)
I am trying to be grateful, though I admit that this choking fog threatens to overwhelm me many hours during the course of a day.
One day, whether in this year or a decade or more from now, the busyness will end. There will be no more baseball games, no more graduation parties to plan. No more fighting or laughing or roughhousing. No more barking. No more dog crates and blankets to clean after our beagle gets sick as he did this morning.
One day, whether in this year or a decade or more from now, I may find myself alone. Suddenly I will have the quiet and that form of peace that comes with an empty house. Or maybe I’ll get out of the house, grab my walking stick and hit the open road.
One day, whether in this year or a decade or more from now, I will need to focus on staying above the fog and not suffocating in the solitude. Above the fog I will find and cling to Christ.
And I will be grateful.
But as she talked to the man who was the last remaining witness to the interplay of sowing and harvesting in her life together with her dead husband, then it seemed to her that she had come to view her life in a new way: like a person who clambers up to a ridge overlooking his home parish, to a place where he has never been before, and gazes down on his own valley. Each farm and fence, each thicket and creek bed are familiar to him, but he seems to see for the first time how everything is laid out on the surface of the earth that bears the lands. And with this new view she suddenly found words to release both her bitterness toward Erlend and her anguish for his soul, which had departed life so abruptly. He had never known rancor; she saw that now, and God had seen it always.
She had finally come so far that she seemed to be seeing her own life from the uppermost summit of a mountain pass. Now her path led down into the darkening valley, but first she had been allowed to see that in the solitude of the cloister and in the doorway of death someone was waiting for her who had always seen the lives of people the way villages look from a mountain crest. He had seen sin and sorrow, love and hatred in their hearts, the way the wealthy estates and poor hovels, the bountiful acres and the abandoned wastelands are all borne by the same earth. And he had come down among them, his feet had wandered among the lands, stood in castles and in huts, gathering the sorrows and sins of the rich and the poor, and lifting them high up with him on the cross. Not my happiness or my pride, but my sin and my sorrow, oh sweet Lord of mine.
~Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset