We once spoke during a discussion at church of heaven and hell as things that are here on earth. That is to say that they are not some concepts that exist in the ether beyond our purview but rather our experience in this life. Today I am conscious of this on a gut level beyond typical awareness.
I have been blindly working for some time now. One of my sons is battling cancer and work has been a way to seek normalcy even though the awareness of his struggle permeates each breath like invading pollen.
Then on a recent morning I received a call. “We want to come and work in your yard … do some landscaping.” After some reassurances that my yard was by no means an eyesore (simply kindness I think) I croaked a grateful, “OK … I suppose that would be alright.”
I rushed out the door to work and began the cycle of making calls, answering email, tending to property issues and generally “putting out the fires”, that self employment demands of us.
My other son had a soccer game and it kept playing on my mind. Guilt was creeping in but there was so much to do I wasn’t going to be able to make it on the busiest day of the week. The next thing I know I’m “texting” my partner who is engaged in another aspect of our business asking if he could fill in for me for a couple of hours. To my surprise, in just a moment or two he responded … “yes.”
A few hours later, after much rushing about I was standing on the sidelines watching intently as my son and the other youth were engaged in the throes of competition. Their focus was palpable. We were all caught up in the tension as our lives intertwined with the hopes and dreams of our children. As I gazed about at the parents, relatives and friends I realized that our commonality had bred nothing other than a form of love.
Afterward we all shook hands and hugged, basking in the glow of a game well played (a scrappy draw actually)
Driving home I thought of the folks from church that had been working in my yard. It had been difficult to say yes to their offer yet the myriad of tasks needing to be done had rested heavily in a corner of my psyche for a while.
Pulling in the drive their labor was strikingly evident. They had removed dead shrubs, cleared ivy and weeds, mulched beds, dug and elevated and swept and cleared. Full bags of mulch were stacked neatly here and there. They had informed me that they intended to return.
Tearfully I wandered this garden of my life, grateful for the dark shades I wore. I envisioned their bent backs and their hands in the dirt. I knew that some had been children and older youth. It was unseasonably hot. They would have been sweating profusely. All on a Saturday when they could have been playing or resting or tending to their own.
Maybe it seems melodramatic but in that moment I felt lifted beyond what I had been before. I loved them. I loved my partner and friend. I loved them all for what Thomas Merton described as their, “intrinsic excellence”. This, I feel, is ultimately their love of God and the hope of heaven that is what makes us unique among creatures “in God’s image.”
Heaven is what I feel now. Through these acts, for a spell, I can truly surrender all things to Him. I can love Him more intensely through my fellow man.
We have been given many gifts during this time of trial and tribulation. Folks have contributed their time, labor, money, materials, food and they have prayed. Yet the greatest thing they have given is to show us their love of God. In so doing they have broken through the veil of suffering and shined a light into this often hateful and darkened place.
They have shown us heaven here on earth in all its glory and all its grace and we will be eternally grateful.
Peace and blessings to all of you. May these words serve as my humble attempt to praise Almighty God through the grace, dignity and love that are our fellows.