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 scripture is Luke chapter six, verses 27 through 38:
Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
My son’s struggle to grow up was mired by drugs and alcohol. Sometimes I regret Ted’s life as a trail of wreckage, carnage, detritus of a life wrecked by my mistakes, his mistakes, the limits of love, the power of addiction.
Sometimes I wonder if the most painful times for Ted were when he was on the upward spiral, not the downward. The upward spiral required an unblinking look at his damaged body, his damaged relationships, his damaged future. And in a blink, with one little misstep, everything could get worse, -- or, with a pill or a needle or a bottle, everything could get forgotten, at least for a moment, until it got worse again.
I am so very proud that Ted was in an upward spiral when he died. And I hope I helped during those tough upward times by reminding him of his innate goodness, of his deep compassion, of his brave love.
At one point in his life, Ted wanted to be a chef. He had the passion, the creativity, and the willingness to start as a dishwasher. Unfortunately, the kitchens where he worked were often full of pills and booze and an ethic that drugging was part of cooking.
Ted met a man named Gregory in one of those kitchens. Before Gregory ended up in prison, he forged checks and otherwise stole from several people, including Ted. Ted was one of many who didn’t keep what he knew about Gregory’s thefts from the police, and he was relieved when he learned that Gregory wouldn’t be in his life for a long time.
Here’s something you may not know about people who wind up in prison, like Gregory did: Many of them are well-educated. And they’re not all scary. Lots of them are extremely creative, and extremely sensitive, and those traits haven’t always served them well. Because they experience the pain of living double-deep. Gregory studied music composition and theory at a prestigious School of Music. He’s fluent in a couple of languages. He’s fascinated by mystical poetry. In fact, he named his cats Rumi and Shams, in honor of the 13th century Persian poets I hadn’t heard of until I met the long-haired Rumi and Shams.
I met Shams and Rumi because, when Gregory went to jail, his former roommate had to move to a smaller apartment where pets were not allowed. When the roommate mentioned to Ted that he was going to take Gregory’s cats to the pound, Ted said, “I’ll take care of them. They shouldn’t have to go to the pound.” Ted loaded the cats and their equipment into his rattletrap of a car, and unloaded them into his apartment, where he hid the cats until he learned that pets were indeed allowed, with a monthly fee.
Ted became the cat’s chief petter and human playmate. He took them to the vet and changed their litter boxes. He called himself a “Feline Foster Father.” When he told me, I was shocked. Ted usually referred to cats as “the one kind of animal I don’t like.” But Ted came to love Gregory’s cats and care for them as if they were his own. And the cats came to love Ted.
Gregory is out of prison now, working, going to mass, staying clean and sober, and generally adjusting slowly but well to his new life. His latest accomplishment is buying a used car. It makes getting to work and the grocery store easier. Sometimes, Gregory posts selfies on Facebook, grinning with cats on his lap -- the same cats Ted fostered for him. You can almost hear the purring.
Every time I see one of those pictures, I thank Ted. Ted saved the cats for Gregory, whom prison saved from near-certain death. And Ted saves me from despair. Because he teaches me, once again, that compassion is stronger than death.
Grief is a thin place.