Episode 6 2/19 - “Birthdays”

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me.

Today’s reading is from Leviticus chapter 19, verses one through two and 11 through 18:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

                  What do you do about a birthday comes round of someone who is dead, who has no more birthdays? What’s a birthday in heaven, anyway? Growing old for all eternity doesn’t make sense. 

When I dream about the dead, they are never a particular age. They’re sort of at the peak of their health, at the peak of themselves. Unmistakably themselves, of an indeterminate age. This is how the dead seem to be.

         All we can know for sure on this side of the veil between this life and the next is that birthdays of those who’ve gone before us are usually very hard. Birthdays without someone to celebrate stir up memories and regrets and sharpen the empty ache of death.

         Four and a half months after my son died, his birthday came. I mentioned it to a neighbor, and she asked me if I wanted company that day. Yes, I thought company could help. Would I like to go out for dinner? Again, yes. Would I like it to be just the two of us or would I like her to ask neighbors to join us? I liked the idea of neighbors joining us.

         And so half a dozen or so neighbor women took me to dinner that aching night when Ted would have turned 28. We talked so much of those we love that see no longer, that by dessert, it felt that the company I was given had company. In telling the stories of our dead, we knew each other lives so much better. Lost mothers, grandparents, sisters, friends. Ted was not the only child mourned at that dinner, just the only one we toasted. It was his birthday, after all.

         I was not the only neighbor loved at that table that night. Ted was not the only one gone who joined us through love at that table that night. And all of us loved ourselves as we loved each other, brought together by births, by deaths, by loss. In the dim light of that restaurant, in our dim understanding of the love that bridges this world and the next, neighbors were loved. Not only by ourselves, but those who joined us through our memories.

Grief is a thin place.