THE GOLDEN EVENING
BRIGHTENS IN THE WEST
Never admit the pain.
Bury it deep.
Only the weak complain.
Complaint is cheap.
Cover thy wound.
Fold down its curtained place.
Silence is still a crown,
Courage a grace. (Mary Gilmore)
The above is a favourite anthem of mine. We live in an age of complaint. It is a veritable industry. All those sad people so focussed upon by television cameras in nearly every news bulletin! They parade their pain and hurt and demand “closure” for it. As well as, needless to say, compensation. I writhe in embarrassment for them.
One of the things I most admire about Margaret, diagnosed as terminally ill with cancer, is her serene courage and acceptance. It is not a mask, it is not an act, it is not feigned. Rather it is a considered, courageous and theologically sound response to life’s arbitrariness, tragedy and transience. Any expressions of grief and pain are “curtained”, that is, are private, shared only with those really close to her. Though her true acceptance of her lot means that expressions of grief, even to those close to her, are rare.
This is not simply fatalism, or a refusal to fight, as has been suggested to her, but rather a profound theological appreciation, that in all of daily life the true wellspring of love, healing and forgiveness is necessarily dependent upon acceptance. True acceptance brings with it a peace and serenity that opens the door to all sorts of opportunities for grace. “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.....” Truly and profoundly to accept an injury or injustice done to us, opens the way to the profound healing that is forgiveness. Truly and profoundly to accept misfortune opens the door to the Holy Spirit.
To accept death is to accept it though. It is not a ploy, a technique, a device to bring about its opposite. Were it so it would not be acceptance.
Good Lord deliver us
Many years ago, in the days when folk were more prepared to spend time in church at prayer, and so recited the Litany regularly, Margaret was struck by the following memorable petition and response: “From dying suddenly and unprepared..... Good Lord deliver us.” This is an unpopular prayer these days. Most people express a rather more selfish desire to die in their sleep. Margaret however is discovering the grace of having had this petition answered in the affirmative. She is attending to all sorts of tasks and preparations for her probable demise in creative, loving, useful and helpful ways. She sews and knits away for us all, and for likely future grandchildren. She sorts her drawers and cupboards, clears the house, shares her jewellery and so on. It both breaks and gladdens the heart.
There have been not a few invitations to imbibe a variety of alternative “medicines”. She has been reluctant to take any of them, though only after as careful and critical a consideration of their efficacy as can be obtained. She has also refused drastic forms of treatment which offer only a marginal increase in longevity because a mere few weeks more of life at the cost of truly horrible treatment both she and her family consider a bad bargain. Folk have also kindly offered the ministrations of healers of one sort or another. She is happy, however for God’s grace to be made available to her, as it has been throughout her life, by way of the ordinary daily prayer of the faithful, both in church and out of church. The God she worships does not require his arm tweaking or ribs digging by special techniques, or formulae.
It has been suggested to her, with the very best of loving intentions, that she is being selfish in “refusing to fight”. All that can be said in response is that her pacifism is of the sort lived by the Jesus she loves. It is therefore not cowardice but courage of the highest order and the results are likely to be as unpredictable and wonderful as they were for him, even if only beyond death.
Too much so called “fighting” disease is a mere clutching at straws and is therefore more pathetic than admirable, more cowardly than courageous.
Look thy last.....
In the meantime there are some wonderful blessings. First among these, perhaps, are the offers and messages of love and help and prayer and goodwill both local and from all over the world. They gladden our hearts enormously and we thank you very much indeed. If things progress as we suspect they will, we plan eventually to harness and channel local offers of assistance by making a list and time table to enable volunteers who have offered help really and practically to do so.
A second great blessing, equal to the first, is to discover how an imminent and likely death can be used, with God’s grace, to enhance one’s appreciation of the present and to strengthen ones loves and affections. We now live the present moment with greater perception and joy than heretofore. We revisit the past with enhanced toleration, understanding and appreciation. We attend to unfinished business. We adjust our future horizon so that the “golden evening” that “brightens in the west” lightens, sharpens and blesses the present. For not quite the same reasons as Walter de la Mare, we take to heart his admonition to:
Look thy last on all things lovely,
Every hour. Let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
Till to delight
Thou have paid thy utmost blessing;
Since that all things thou wouldst praise
Beauty took from those who loved them
In other days.