I spend a great deal of time walking in the valley of the shadow of death. I’ve walked there with ones I love: my daughters Faith and Grace, my son Thomas, my mother, my friend and mentor Dinah, grandparents. The longer we walk this earth, the more goodbyes we will experience. Most recently, I walk with others saying goodbye to the ones they love as a support companion/birth and bereavement doula® and remembrance photographer . Standing on the other side of the hospital bed gives perspective not only to the pain experienced by others, but the pain in our own hearts. The week before Christmas, I spent time with six different families as they welcomed their sweet babies earthside while joy and grief danced together among the tender hellos mixed with too-soon goodbyes. I call it the place where heaven meets earth. In that sacred space, time stops and everything makes sense.
All the cares of the earth fall away. All our worries and fears and hopes and dreams swirl in a vortex that can’t touch us for just a brief interlude. Heaven reaches down to kiss earth for just a moment, to honor the precious tiny lives that the world will never fully know. But, the people in that room…in that moment, they know. They experience the bittersweetness of the miracle that every single life matters here and in eternity.
It doesn’t seem to matter…our backgrounds, our belief systems, our values, our occupations, our ambitions, where we live, where we came from, or even where we’re going…all the ways we identify ourselves mean nothing in the valley of the shadow of death. In that moment, there is only one thing that matters.
At the beginning and at the end of a life, there is only one thing that matters. The love we share for one another. I’ve stood in the room beside heroin- addicted parents, parents who had plenty and parents who had many unmet needs, parents who were married and parents who were single, parents who had been to every prenatal visit and parents who had little care during their pregnancy, parents who made the choice to carry their baby to term after hearing the words “incompatible with life” and parents who made the choice to deliver their child soon after hearing the diagnosis. I have spoken the reassuring words to many…that somehow the grace will be there for them when they meet their baby. Somehow, the strength to say hello and goodbye will come. Somehow, a crazy and unexplainable peace will fill the room, and they will be able to do the unspeakable.
I have watched fathers help bathe tiny babies. I have watched young mothers kiss the foreheads of wee ones they thought they wouldn’t be able to hold. I have helped siblings wrap their sister or brother in blankets. I have helped to celebrate the lives few will meet. Precious lives, each one matters. I have seen babies breathe that weren’t supposed to breathe breaths….watched tiny hearts beating through thin skin. I have watched the beauty of the human spirit in its most raw and tender of moments. A witness of miracles. A bearer of grief. A giver of love.
In that moment, it doesn’t matter who we are or where we’ve been or even what we’ve done. The valley of the shadow of death is a great equalizer. And, the same love is there for everyone who walks on the sacred ground where heaven meets earth. The love fills the room. The love parents have for one another. The love that spans generations as grandparents and siblings and cousins and friends enter the room. The love everyone who gathers feels for the tiny babies who are here for a glimpse, a twinkle, a moment, a blink in eternity’s sea.
And, most of all I notice the love God has for us. Not everyone notices or acknowledges that love, I know. Perhaps you call it something else. But, I believe it is the love He has for us that reaches down from heaven to kiss earth for a moment. What I find the most compelling about that love is that it is there for everyone…the church-goer as well as the prostitute….I’ve felt that love fill the room. That love has changed me as a person of faith. There is no difference between any of us in that moment. In the face of that love, we are all equal. It’s the closest we ever will get to heaven this side of eternity. And, it is the place for me that makes the most sense here. It’s the place of miracles. It’s the place where love lives.
I wonder what would happen if we all lived the way we live in those moments, when death is near and nothing else matters but LOVE. I wonder how the world could change if we carried that grace with us everywhere. Those of us who have stood on that sacred ground know the secret. Perhaps it’s up to us to begin to live that way, carrying that unconditional love with us in our day-to-day lives.