I read recently a reporter’s assessment of the global pandemic, looking at the weeks to come. He remarked that this might be “the hardest thing many of us have ever gone through.” I thought immediately to myself—“nope. Not me.” Yes, it will be hard, but I am not afraid. I have walked, and lived, through obliterating pain, through death I never expected. My whole world has been rearranged, my identity knocked off its center. I know this time in history will be difficult, but I also know, to my bones, that we will make it through. That we, as human beings, have what it takes.
I remember acutely the weeks tending to Caitlin, unconscious in the ICU. We slept a few hours a night, and when we did, it was on the hard waiting room floor, sometimes atop a few chairs pushed together. Guards would wake us up in the middle of the night, telling us we couldn’t sleep there, so we would growl that we weren’t leaving our sister, and my siblings and I would find another empty floor somewhere to catch a few more minutes of rest. I remember thinking—how am I still functional? But I just was, and I was ok. I felt astounded by a strength, a presence I hadn’t known before, rising from within me. All of us, in those days midwifing Caity’s death, became warriors.
If Caity so much as breathed differently, we were at her side in an instant. We were around the clock in shifts, adjusting her pillows, wetting her lips, anointing her scar, praying and singing and attuning to her presence, beyond consciousness. We would sit together with the hospital staff, making impossible decisions about life through our tears while our hearts broke. When it was time to remove her from life support, my brothers and I sat with her, not knowing if she would die in the moments the tubes were removed, or if she would somehow find a way to breathe on her own. We sat there, holding her hands, telling her over and over how much we loved her, as she gasped and choked for breath, as her lungs found their way into a new breathing rhythm. She was able to use her own lungs for a week longer, before she breathed for the last time.
I know this about really hard things. It’s not so much that it makes you stronger, as so many cliché sayings go. It forces you into depths of yourself that you didn’t know you possessed, and in those places, you find strength you never knew you carried. You find you are strong in ways you never could have imagined. You uncover a stamina that feels foreign, like someone else. At the same time, you know fiercely it is you, a new you, rising in this place of unraveling.
Human beings are capable of so much more than we think, than we’ve been conditioned to believe. As Caity tells me consistently, we are “magnificent,” walking light-workers, shining rainbows of love from our hearts. We might feel weak and sinful and incapable but I wonder if that has more to do with our conditioning from millennia of dominating religious-political belief obsessed with sin and control. We don’t expect much of ourselves. It’s kept us docile and obedient, ants marching to the beat of “how it is.” We find ourselves so trapped in fear and anxiety, and often believe these are the only possible responses to the really hard things.
What if there’s another way, another way of being human?
We’ve believed that we are sinful, but what if we’re truly glorious? We’ve bought the lie that we’re here to consume, but what if we’re here to create? We think we’re weak and will fall apart but what if we carry hidden strength that will astound us? What if to be human is not a legacy of suffering but a legacy of light and love and liberation?
This is what Jesus meant about building the kin-dom of God. He said it is within each of us and hoped for its embodiment in community and society. It’s what yogis call the “rainbow bridge”—each human person buzzing from each chakra, shining in the radiance of our full humanity, a bridge between heaven and earth.
Yes, this moment in time is hard. Excruciatingly so. Most likely, it will only get harder. Everything we thought we knew is changing. But we humans can do hard things! We always have. Even if it’s the hardest thing we can imagine doing, like burying the one we love the most.
This story is at the center of a forgotten Christianity—to face death and continue not just living, but living electric, enlivened and empowered, filled with transformative love for all of humanity and creation. Huddled and afraid after the execution of their beloved teacher, the followers of Jesus gathered together in their fear, isolated from the outside world, sure death was coming for them too. Yet a Spirit, a Sense, something Holy came and filled their hearts. It was so strong, like fire, and it was coming from INSIDE of each of them. They looked at one another, could see it in each others’ eyes, and it grew into courage. In their immense grief, in their fear, they went into the world to teach and build community and love others beyond themselves. Somehow, the barriers were gone. They could all understand one another, no matter the difference in language or viewpoint. They stepped from fear into unity.
Christianity did not originate such a story of great life coming from death, of strength in suffering, of transforming fear into fiery light for the world. Jesus came, I believe, to return a people forgetting their way to a story more ancient than time. It is the story of the earth, the story of birthing women, the story of every indigenous people dwelling close to creation. Death comes. And so does more life. We let go and we receive. We empty and we create. We are pummeled to the ground, and we rise.
Let us choose for this to be a time of rising! It is already within us.
Let us make it so.