Sunday, June 5, 2016
It’s not easy to contemplate the possible death of someone we love. I have lost both of my parents already, but I still love them, and remembering them in their virtues and in their flaws is a permanent feature of my life. My life is lived, as it were, by their light, and in their shadow.
What attacks me most with the scourge of sorrow is thinking about how they were tricked out of an earthly life that they could’ve had. The same scourges me when thinking about my own life, how I was tricked, but of course, I’m still alive, and each new day I awake thankful that I have it.
But it is very sad, when we are faced with the possible death of someone we love. Memories begin to clog the mind, up too come those regrets, how we may not have loved them as we could’ve, but for me, that we have been tricked out of what could have been. In the face of death, who can blame?
Once, my mother wrote me a letter in her fifty-fourth year. Evidently she had an intuition that her life might be drawing to a close, and so she confessed,
I sit and think all the time, how we only have one life, and how people can really waste it, like I did. The only time I feel so good is when I’m trying to go to sleep. I talk to God, and I just can’t explain how I feel and what I see, how it will be when I’m gone. You know, I feel so very happy, and I’m not afraid. God will remember me and forgive me, because I never blamed God for my bad life. I only remember what was good, and how happy I was. The rest that happened was only when I went off [on] the side road, and it took me longer to get back. Remember, it was [when we lived] on Ross Street, you were telling and showing us about that road, and how one can stray. It took me longer [to get back] because the devil was stronger than me. I feel I could have done something sooner and will never forgive myself for straying that long, but I know God will forgive me. So now, all there is for me is the straight ahead road, and I’m sure not turning either way. It’s too close to the end to let the devil win again.
My mother was a semi-invalid, her illnesses stemmed from nervous tension, and even from her thirties she was showing signs of a weak constitution inside what was once an athletic body. At some point she’d had a tumor removed which left her with, as she used to say, only about a third of her stomach.
I don’t recall how long after she wrote this letter—it can’t have been long, for it was, I think, her last letter to me—she did not die, but she suffered a very bad stroke which left her paralyzed on the right half of her body, and deprived her of her power of speech. She lived twelve more years in that state.
When I read her letters, many of which contain confessions like the one quoted, I am always brought to my senses about human misery, how we ourselves manufacture it, how we let ourselves be tricked out of what God has planned for each of us, and especially how we hide this knowledge from ourselves.
I am at that point again, with death staring me in the face, as if to say, ‘I win. I tricked you out of what you could have been, stolen all you could’ve had, and made you think it was all your fault, or the fault of others, even God’s fault.’ No, not by my own death, but by the possibility that someone I love may die.
Aretí Vlahákis, a wise old woman whom I knew and from whom I learned many things, even non-verbally, and who has now passed on, or as we Greeks say, reposed, used to say that the monogram we see on icons, IC XC NIKA means ‘Jesus Christ is the Winner.’ The usual translation is ‘conquers.’
I’ve never forgotten her or her wise sayings. Yes, Jesus Christ is the Winner, ‘now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.’ We have been tricked out of the full blessings of God in our earthly lives, yet there He stands, triumphant in His earthly defeat, Himself untricked by our ancient foe, Himself the ultimate Trickster.
Just as He lured Herod’s soldiers to Bethlehem to fill Rachel’s heavenly lap, just as He lured Satan out into the wilderness to be humiliated and rejected for forty days, just as He lured the unbelieving Jews to usher Him in regal splendor on the back of an ass to the Throne whence He reigns between thieves,
He has tricked the deceiver and the liar out of its prey, He has tricked the snake placed in Paradise to tempt our foremother Eve, He has tricked the soldiers who gambled for His clothes, the Jews who went after the myrrhbearers to the tomb, and finally Death and Hell itself.
Yes, in this game of life, Jesus Christ is the Winner.
And so are all who unite themselves to Him.
at 5:10 PM