“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…” – Psalm 23:4
My favorite nine-year-old tells me it freaks him out to look at his friend through binoculars held backwards. “It looks like they are far away, but then you take the binoculars off your eyes and they’re standing! right! there!”
I know what he means, because my husband Jeff has a degenerative illness. If you have lost a spouse, you may feel that binoculars make everything too big. Grief seems too close most of the time, you can observe every detail, every wrinkle and outline. But those of us who are living with a long slow illness are looking at grief through lenses held backwards. Grief seems small and fuzzy, distant and even unthreatening.
Every now and then, though, the binoculars get ripped off, often when we least expect it. The frustration in Jeff’s eyes when he drops a piece of paper on the floor and can’t pick it up. The cancellation of today’s small errand because someone forgot to charge the electric wheelchair. The careful conversation with friends to decide if their house is accessible enough for a visit. It’s a shock every time, how close grief really is, how clearly it really looms.
What do we do then, when the binoculars fall for a minute, when we are poleaxed by the sudden and startling nearness of grief? Take a moment, take a breath, take the long view. Look around, binocular-less. Let our eyes adjust for a moment. Coming into focus, see the One who is right there by our side, who was there all along. The One who will not forsake us, no matter how long the valley of the shadow may stretch before us.
Thou art with me. Thou art with me. Thou art with me. Amen.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.