To me, Nagoya was only a name; Kampala was only rumors of malnutrition and epidemic disease...and I was satisfied to remain in that naive state of ignorance until my dear friend moved to Uganda for a summer and then to Japan for a year to teach English. Suddenly, I wanted to know what those places looked and smelled like. I wanted to know that she would be safe there. I wanted to know what the food tasted like and what the town sounded like. I still haven't been to either place, but Stacey posts pictures of rainbows made of oragami swans and poems about Africa, "a land of contrasts" on her fabulously ecclectic blog and Nagoya and the villages of Uganda have become much more than names.
I was similarly content with naivate about Heaven until my grandparents started dying. When I happened to think about death I reassured myself with pretty, but vague images of gilded streets and cherubic legions. But as I sat through my grandpa's funeral yesterday, I wasn't content to imagine him clad in white robes, floating through golden corridors. No. The abstractions would not suffice. I wanted to know that there would be a bowl of Snelgrove's Burnt Almond Fudge Ice Cream waiting for him (and a glass of peach seltzer for Grandma Donna and artichokes with mayonnaise for Grandpa Bob.) As we drove away from the cemetary after the funeral services, I wanted to know that my grandpa would be able to dribble a basketball again like he used to do when he played at the university. I wanted to know that he would be able to drink root beer floats to his heart's content and watch Lawrence Welk if he wanted to. And if not all that, then I wanted to at least be sure that immortals didn't want to eat or watch TV or play sports, but that there were some other, perhaps more noble, pastimes that they could be anxiously engaged in. I could still be content to remain in ignorance about immortal appetites and hobbies, but no matter what, I wanted to know that when my grandpa hugged his sweetheart, she would recognize him and thank him for going to the care center twice each day to feed her, and for taking her to get her nails done when she didn't even remember who he was or that she liked having painted nails.
I have a fairly visceral hunch that my grandparents were reunited and that my grandma was finally able to thank my grandpa for all the things that he did for her when Alzheimer's took away her ability to appreciate him--or even remember him. I suppose I feel about eternal progress (in very small part) what CS Lewis felt when he faced losing his wife to cancer, and that is that, "you never know how much you believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you." The events of this week brought my notions of eternity under intense scrutiny--literally making it a matter of life and death. I am filled with insatiable curiousity about heaven and eternal relationships. I suppose there is, somewhere in the vastness of cyberspace, a blog for theologians to post their suppositions about celestial life, but in this particular instance, I want to be reassured "by study and also by faith"... my own personally acquired, tested, and strengthened faith. As I said earlier, I feel an instinctual confidence about the eternal nature of families, but I want to know that I could trust that "rope" of faith if I had to hang by it over a precipice much steeper and more treacherous than the loss of an aged grandparent.
I hope you will forgive me for waxing personal. I had nearly decided not to share this week's chronicle; there aren't any funny anecdotes, and the subject matter is weighty, but the more I think about it, the more I feel like maybe I ought to. Perhaps some of you will find common threads of experience here. I don't know why we have such reservation about sharing personal feelings, like Meg Ryan so perceptively pointed out in You've Got Mail, "whatever else anything is, it oughtta at least begin by being personal."