I don’t like the way Disney makes death kind of tidy.
You know, Mufasa falls to his death in front of his son (who should NEVER have been in that gorge) who then gets false advice from his uncle and the next thing we know we get showtunes about problem-free…
…and happy tidings about the circle of life.
Then an existential monkey tells us that that past can hurt, but it doesn’t matter. It’s in the past. Apparently, we’re told, there are two options: Running from it or learning from it.
Death is a heady topic for a Monday.
But it’s what’s on my mind today. And I’m thinking it isn’t as neat and clean as Disney wants us to believe. See, after my dad died when I was younger, my Mom was a firm believer in keeping busy. We ran from death mostly. I mean, after my dad’s funeral my cousins and I played Putt-Putt golf. I was back at school the next day and I remember Mr. Crittenden showing us the Zapruder film in civics class. I remember Mrs. McCord crying because her husband left her. I became a latchkey kid, but most of the time I only used the key to drop off the backpack and I’d grab the 10-speed and head off to the batting cage about half a mile from my house. If I stayed home there was a steady diet of AC/DC or Zeppelin or whatever metal bands the late-’70’s/early ’80’s were thoughtful enough to provide. Metal was my gateway drug to hardcore punk that eventually drifted to Alabama before MTV mainlined music to all of America.
But at the end of the day all of that was just running from the effects of death.
I didn’t think about it much. And when I did I simply turned up the volume.
As far as “learning from it,” well, what I learned is that you don’t get a lot of answers.
“Why?” doesn’t get answered. It doesn’t get answered when your grandfather dies. It doesn’t get answered when your father dies. It doesn’t get answers when your really serious high school relationship dies. Or when big-time ambitions die.
I also learned that it’s best to hold back emotionally. Kind of like Lloyd Dobler said in “Say Anything,” “You start out depressed, everything else turns out to be a pleasant surprise.”
Which leads to my biggest fear: Abandonment.
I said it. Well, I wrote it.
I fear being abandoned.
And the residual fall-out of that, which is this idea that eventually the other shoe will drop. Writer John Irving in his book “The World According to Garp” called “The Undertoad.” See, a young T.S. Garp misunderstood his parents warning him about not going into the ocean because of the “undertow” and he envisioned this terrible toad underneath the water and even though things looked okay, trouble was just around the corner.
And I’m on a frequent vigil for The Undertoad.
The things that matter to me most simply…
…through no real fault of anybody or anything. Things happen sometimes. Profound things. Things that hurt deeply. What I learned is that death isn’t as neat and tidy as Disney makes it out to be. It’s ugly and reaches farther into the corners of our closets than we’d like for it to.
Ultimately what I learned is that God is faithful in those situations. Not in some magical mystical way I was lead to believe (“God has a plan, sweetie.” “May you have peace which passes all understanding.” “He’s in a better place.” “She’s not the girl God has for you.”) by well meaning believers.
Rather, in the muck and the mire, He is there. That nothing escapes His notice or His concern.
He never leaves.
He never abandons.
And when you read Psalm 23 in all the poetic beauty, there’s an ugliness to it.
We have wants.
We’re not in green pastures sometimes.
We’re not by still waters sometimes.
We’ll be in the shadows.
We’ll be in the Valley of Death.
We’ll need to rod of discipline sometimes.
We’ll need the staff of instruction sometimes.
And even though things aren’t tidy and neat and clean and I still look over my shoulder for The Undertoad some 30 years later, maybe that’s the best thing to learn:
That Psalm 23 is ultimately beautifully true.
And that’s not running from anything or happy talk or looking on the bright side or seeing the glass as half-full or anything like that.
And that’s not merely learning to pick yourself up by your bootstraps or building character or toughing it out or anything like that.
It’s understanding that The Shepherd cares for His sheep in every sense of that word…
…whether we’re in the green fields or the valley of death or trying to ignore The Undertoad.
And that’s neither neat or tidy. And it’s certainly not simple, mystical or magical.
But it’s real.
And on a deep-thinking Monday morning, I’ll take it.