~ Kahlil Gibran
This Easter season I’ve been ruminating a lot about stories. It started last fall when Rick Asher asked me to write lyrics for an Easter anthem, and I found inspiration in the stories of Mary and Peter. It continued through Holy Week, when Pastor Ned told the passion story on Maundy Thursday. Through it all I’ve realized something about stories. For me, stories have become my language of faith, perhaps not in the forms of biography or history, but as memoir, metaphor and, dare we say, myth. I find that I can articulate my own faith through stories much better than by any other means of expression. So today I share two of my Easter stories.
My first Easter story actually didn’t happen at Easter, but in mid-November of 2006. My mother fell and severely injured her head. She died a few days later without regaining consciousness. During that time we knew that Mom was dying, and members of three generations of our family gathered around her bed. We sat with her as she slowly slipped away, at times silent, sometimes singing, sometimes talking quietly. We were telling stories about Mom when she passed away.
Her death was a relief in many ways. She struggled with health issues for years, with severe rheumatoid arthritis and congestive heart failure among the diagnoses. She lived as active a life as she could until her mind started giving way. She had dementia for at least 10 years before she died, and was living in a locked ward when she fell and died.
Dad began crying when Mom died. That wasn’t unusual. He’d always been the crier in the couple, and had shed many tears in recent years. He was Mom’s primary care giver, on duty 24 hours a day for more than a decade. But when she died he smiled as the tears fell, and he was so excited that he jumped up and nearly danced.
“She’s finally free!” he sobbed. “No more arthritis. No more dementia. No more pain. She’s free!”
My father possessed a very strong, very traditional Christian faith, and he had no doubt that Mom was more than the shrunken, wispy corpse that remained in her bed, barely substantial enough to make a bump under the sheet that covered her. Dad knew that Mom was in heaven, healed of all her earthly misery, free, whole, happy at last. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought. His own belief was enough to enable my father to celebrate my mother’s life, and to live his remaining year with a smile on his face.
My second story is a little different. It comes from the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel. The book, which recently was made into a movie, recounts the story of a young boy from India who is the sole survivor of a shipwreck. The ship was carrying Pi, his parents, and the zoo animals that they were taking with them from India to start a new life in Canada. He tells two versions of his story to two insurance adjusters who interview him after he spent 227 days in a lifeboat, drifting across the Pacific Ocean.
The first version of Pi’s story fills most of the book. In it, he is the only human that makes it to the lifeboat. His only companions are four animals: an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, and a Bengal tiger. The hyena kills the zebra and the orangutan, and the tiger kills the hyena. Pi finds a way to share the lifeboat with the beast, and the pair travels through a series of surreal, fantastic scenes. The tiger disappears into the jungle when the lifeboat finally reaches land in Mexico.
The insurance adjusters find it difficult to believe Pi’s story, so he tells another version. In this one, his companions are all human: his mother, an injured sailor, and the cook. This version is filled with despair, murder, and cannibalism. The sailor dies and the cook kills Pi’s mother. Pi survives by killing the cook.
Neither story tells the insurance adjusters what they want to know – the reason why the ship sank. But Pi asks them which version they prefer. I quote:
“So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?”
“That’s an interesting question… “
“The story with animals.”
“Yes. The story with animals is the better story.”
“Thank you. And so it goes with God.”
Do you have Easter stories? What are they?