More than once, on the day of my father’s death, did I think How did we get here? Doctors and nurses had told us things were “improving,” “he’s still not out of the woods” (a very non-medical phrase repeated I don’t know how many times over the course of those weeks) but “improving.” At one point the words “home health” had even been mentioned. Then the phone call to my mother and brother, and then the call to me: “He’s gone.”
How did we get here?
Even as I don’t want to think about the Holy Week stories, I think about the Holy Week stories. I can’t not think about them, these heartbreaking narratives that I inherited in a season of childhood where I also learned to write in cursive, and lift my hands off my bike’s handlebars and fly. Things you don’t forget. Things you can’t. As I think about the Holy Week stories this year, I hear every character without exception mumbling that phrase How did we get here?
I believe Mary and John and Peter and the others had moments of pause where they sensed something wicked on the horizon, but the atmosphere on Palm Sunday was “improving.” Jesus was “still not out of the woods,” but I mean look at the people, listen to their cheers. Then in a mere matter of days: “He’s gone.”
Add to the shock of it all the matter of age. My dad was 80yrs old. Some would say he’d lived a long life. I would contend he had more to live. Yet consider Jesus, this 30something, this short life. As a man in my 30s, I was at the height of my powers—physically, mentally, on all fronts. So I believe was Jesus, at the height, the highest point from which a man, or a God, could fall. And he fell. He was, in Joan Didion’s hauntingly appropriate phrase, “rendered fragile.” As were his followers. As are we. As am I.
Ah, there it is. Yes, the question of self-pity. The experience of meaninglessness. Not so much How did we get here? as How did I get here?
What am I supposed to do now?
Who am I?
Jim Harrison’s father (and sister) were killed in a car wreck when Jim was still a young man. My favorite writer describes the experience in that wake in this way: “in rode the terrible freedom.”