It’s only when love shines through that I see the flashes. It turns out that happy or tragic doesn’t matter.
I walk up the stairs of a red brick church with Mom and Dad. The parents of the dead teenager stand next to her coffin, hugging people, talking. Their eyes shine so that it hurts to look. It’s not the tears. It’s the clear love, the flash, that stuns me.
Her death was foolish. Who would sit on a light boat as it was being towed on a trailer? It was just a second. One bump.
High winds and thunder make me look up. When lightning sizzles across the blackness, I gasp. Death cuts away fuzziness so that all I see is clear light. That’s the flash.
The brilliance in the eyes of this mother and father blinds me, and I look away. I’m young and I have no stamina. I recognize the radiance; I’ve known it since I was tiny.
What I haven’t learned yet is that love itself is neither happy nor tragic. It’s the sky above the clouds. There are times in life when the vision, the flash, stuns us so completely that, even in our childishness and our denial, we fall to our knees.
What I haven’t learned yet is that being on my knees—knowing that I adore someone—is the whole reason for life. It doesn’t matter if I’m on my knees to button someone’s coat or kneeling at a funeral.
Now, as an old woman, these flashes are my treasures. I gather each one close and roll it in my fingers because I know this is the precious stuff of life.
Here’s one when my baby sleeps on my chest and smiles in her sleep. Here’s another when my love holds me close and doesn’t let go. Here’s a tiny white coffin. Here’s a girl skating alone, a toddler singing in the bathtub, my grandmother combing her soft white hair, and a teenager practicing Shakespeare. “As you from crimes would pardon’d be, Let your indulgence set me free.”
What I know now is that in love, there is no time at all. There is no before and after. At this funeral, the brilliance in the parents’ eyes is the exact same instant as when they danced in the living room with that baby girl, when they combed out her snarls and braided her hair, when they daubed baking soda on her chicken pox, when they taught her to parallel park.
Victor Hugo said, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Above the cliché, above the sentiment is the open sky itself. No storm can touch it.
And so I gather my flashes and smile. This is my life. I look into your eyes, and it’s your life too. You reach for me.
It’s the movement between us that is sacred. It’s our dance, the flash of light on faces, the shape of bodies touching that is the divine spark.
I stay on my knees now, knowing there are flashes all around me. This is my holy place. This is how I worship. I gaze into the flashes and never look away.
— by Jean Gendreau
copyright © 2015 by Jean E. Gendreau