We are all clingers. That's who we are. That's what we do. We cling. But, the Easter/Ascension message is that we need to celebrate our rites of passage, because that's the only way that the Holy Spirit can guide us into the next level of our lives.
I have to admit that I'm a real sucker for scenes in movies where families are being separated or lovers are having to part and it's not their will. Some forces or events are pulling them apart. I cry easily when these scenes happen. The classic one in my memory is the movie "Sophie's Choice," where Meryl Streep plays Sophie and there is a scene in which she and her children are at the platform of a railroad station. A Nazi officer who looks at her son and daughter and tells Sophie, "You can choose to keep one of them.... but not both." She had to make the horrible choice of which one to keep. That was definitely a three-hanky scene. And I used them all.
It's natural for us to hold on to what we love, to the people that we love. I think of Mary Magdalene on the first Easter Sunday. She went to the tomb in the garden and found it empty. The next thing you know, Jesus is standing before her. He was dead. He was gone. Now He's back. And she's just thrilled, and is ready to say, "OK. Let's continue life as usual. Everything is going to be as it was before." But Jesus stops her, takes a step back, and says, "Do not cling to Me." Then, He gives her an instruction to go tell the rest of the disciples where He wants to meet them. This was not a time for holding onto the past, but a time to prepare for new things that God had in store for them.
Just before the Ascension. Jesus was leaving again. You might say, "Well, what is this? He came. He died. He's gone. He's back. Now He's going again...." The apostles must have been confused too. They wanted to hold onto His presence. They had lost Him once. Now, they were losing Him again? So, they stood there, and as He disappeared from their midst, they did the natural thing. Nothing. They clung. They wanted to hold onto that sight. An angel of the Lord came to them and the others gathered there, and the angel said, "Why are you looking up to the skies?" The message was (and still is), "There's a whole world out there that needs to hear the good news. You can't stand here looking up to heaven, hoping for something past to stay with you. There's something new that God wants to do through you."
You know, we're all clingers. That's who we are. That's what we do. We cling. Think of a kindergartener on the first day of school. A kindergartener might easily be seen clinging to his or her mother's leg. "Don't make me go in there." And the mother is mourning the end or the passing of babyhood, infanthood, toddlerhood, preschool. This is a real passage for the parents too.
What do graduates do at a high school graduation? They cry. They hug. They act like they want to spend four more years in the school. We know they don't, but what they are saying through their emotions is, "I want to hang onto something that was here that was good. And I'm not sure I am ready to go to the next step." The parents of the graduates are crying too, saying, "I don't know if I'm ready to have an adult child in my house, or in my life." They're not ready to let go of the high school years. I have two daughters in high school and I think it's just great. I'm having a ball! I don't know if they're having a ball, but I am. We go to basketball games. I'm on the school site council. You get to know the faculty and the administration, other parents. You form a community with other families, and it's just great. I'm not looking forward to their getting out of high school, to that passage.
We cling to ages. I've heard teenagers say, "I don't ever want to be twenty. That's really old." And then when someone's twenty-nine, and they're just about to turn (God forbid!) thirty.... another trauma! And if they make it past twenty-nine into thirty, they can do okay for about another nine years. And then they hit thirty-nine and are facing the big 4 - 0, with all of its trauma. Well, we get through the Big 4...0 and find out that we survive it, and we live a few more years and we reach FORTY-nine, and then it's the big 5 - 0 that's in front of us. And we know, at that point, "Oh! Oh! we might be at the top of the mountain and going down the back side." If we get through the fifties and things are going pretty well, we suddenly find yourself at age 59 saying, "I'm not ready to be sixty. People are OLD when they're sixty!" Now, those of us who have gone through these passages, we know that there are some advantages to being a senior citizen. You get discounts at the restaurants. You get half-price tickets at ballgames. You travel on Amtrak for half price. It's not all bad. I won't go any farther than 69. You get the idea.
People who are mourning someone who is dying, want to cling to that life. We don't want to let our loved ones die. We want to hang onto the good memories of the past. And then after that person has passed away, we have a very difficult time letting go of the things that were theirs.... clothes nd other articles they have used and cherished, and that we've cherished over the years. It becomes very difficult for us to let go. We want to cling. Now, it's okay to cling to those we love. It's all right to cling to the things that we love. But the Easter and Ascension message is that we need to celebrate our rites of passage, because that's the only way the Holy Spirit can guide us into the next level of our lives. God's spirit can't work in us if we're fifty years old, trying to live as if we were twenty-five.
So, let's go back to the kindergartener who must eventually let go of the mother's leg. And mom has to say goodbye as her child goes into the classroom and the door closes, because that's the beginning of a child's formal education. That's the beginning of a very important process in our lives. Graduates from high school may weep and they may hug, but they still walk across the stage and get their diplomas. And you would hope that they do that with the awareness and the happiness that they are moving on to another level in their lives, taking on the responsibility of college, jobs, and whatever it is that is ahead of them.
And in our own aging, we need to celebrate that each decade of our lives comes with its own blessings and challenges, and to welcome that, and let God do God's work in us as we advance from the twenties to the thirties to the forties to the fifties, gathering up the wisdom that comes with that process. And those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, at some point when that person is in the last stages of life, we need to say to them, "I give you permission to die. It's all right for you to go," because dying is a rite of passage that takes us to the next best thing. And we ourselves, we grieve, we cry, we mourn, we shout at God, tell God we're angry; we kick the walls, whatever we have to do, we do in our mourning process. But then some point has to come when we can say, "Okay, I can let go and begin to live my life again. I can let that person go," not to forget him or her, but lto et go and get on with our lives, whatever they are going to be.
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