Saturday, April 1, 2017

April 1: Wild Bob, Lazarus, Appreciating Loss

There were pictures of castles and lakes and pretty girls on the walls.  This was the rolling home of the railroad guards, men whose business it was to be forever guarding freight rolling from here to there.  The four guards went inside and closed the door.

A little while later they came out smoking cigars, talking contentedly in the mellow lower register of the German language.  One of them saw Billy's face at the ventilator.  He wagged a finger at him in affectionate warning, telling him to be a good boy.

The Americans across the way told the guards again about the dead man on their car.  The guards got a stretcher out of their own cozy car, opened the dead man's car and went inside.  The dead man's car wasn't crowded at all.  There were just six live colonels in there--and one dead one.

The Germans carried the corpse out.  The corpse was Wild Bob.  So it goes.

Vonnegut treats death very matter-of-factly in Slaughterhouse.  A lot of people die.  Billy's wife dies.  Wild Bob dies.  Later in the book, Dresden is firebombed.  Lots of people shuffle off this mortal coil in the book.  And Vonnegut's response is simple:  So it goes.  Death happens.

I went to church tonight.  The Gospel reading was the story of Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life.  Of course, this passage contains the shortest sentence in the Bible:  "Jesus wept."  I always find that line really moving.  Jesus, the Son of God, who has the power to bring His friend back to life, reacts in a very human way to the death of Lazarus.  He cries.  Allows Himself to be overcome with grief.

I find great comfort in Jesus' tears.  In becoming flesh and blood, Jesus understands loss.  When my sister died, I read the story of Lazarus quite a few times.  I almost chose it as a reading for her funeral.  Eventually, I decided against it.  I don't know why.  I think it was because it was too personal to me.  Every time I reread the story of Lazarus in the days following my sister's death, I would burst into tears when I came to "Jesus wept."  I didn't want to share that response in public.  Not then.

Now, approaching the two year anniversary of my sister's death, I'm still moved by Jesus weeping at Lazarus' tomb, but it's not quite so . . . present.  I'm able to control my emotions better.  I am not Kurt Vonnegut or Billy Pilgrim.  I can't just say "So it goes" and move on with my narrative.  However, I understand the beauty of a life well-lived.  I can be grateful for loss because it makes me appreciate my friends and family members even more.

Saint Marty is thankful for everyone in his life, even the people who drive him a little crazy.

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