At the moment I am grieving. My father died recently. You think you'll be ready but you never are. Something is gone from my life, moments which can never be relived or re-enacted. I wasn't ready and never could have been. My mind is overwhelmed with memories. Every minute of every day my father is on my mind. That is not to say I feel sad all the time. Sometimes I'm wondering whether I am a bad daughter because I feel normal today and then like a wave it hits again like yesterday as I was stopped at traffic lights up the town I 'saw' him in another man wearing the familiar sort of hat he'd wear on a sunny day. Or like last week when I found myself stuck in traffic behind the car he'd sold last year when he'd gotten good test results and decided to change his car since he'd be here a bit longer. Those moments I just want to get home. Other moments I'm fine and 'normal'. Grief is an unpredictable thing.
He's on my mind every minute of every day.
So I'm so sad but something else has swept me off my feet. I'm happy!! Yes, I repeat that, I'm overwhelmed with this unexpected joy. That's what this post is about, not the grief, that's mine and I'll stumble through. Joy though was never designed for privacy. Joy is something the mountaintops shout out.
Why am I happy my father is dead?
I'm not happy he's dead, I'm happy he's ALIVE!!
Since the day he died I've found myself drawn to two things. One is Mass. I've always gone to Mass every day apart from when I mistakenly thought I was too busy with little children and they were too naughty and noisy and that I may as well not be there at all since I was so distracted and if I was any further back in the church I'd be out the door and that I was distracting the other people. Believe me, that was a mistake. Mass benefits everyone even when we're distracted and stressed. Sometimes the only prayer I've managed to mumble has been "Lord, give me peace". Prayer indeed.
I don't look for my father in the smell of his shirts still hanging in his wardrobe waiting for him to put them on. I don't look for him at his graveside though I do like to go there. I look longingly at the chair at my table he sat at when'd he'd call in around 11am and we'd have tea together and he'd bring me back to earth like the time I sat and complained about this child did this and the other one did that and they don't this and they mess up that... He listened to my long rant then laughed and said "So you're trying to say they're normal? Oh how I miss that sort of wisdom. How I miss my friend. But where I really look for, and find, my father...and my mother...is at Mass. I don't feel anything sentimental or feel a spiritual high, but that's where I find them. That's what I look forward to each day...finding Daddy. At Mass. I wouldn't miss that daily encounter. And beside him, the woman, my lovely mother, whom he grieved for 16 years and now I'm thinking...what was that but a flash?
If you're grieving and longing for a loved one, try Mass.
And what's the second thing I'm drawn to?
I've always had this idea and I've written about it before that beauty is not an optional extra and that somehow it points to something far above itself, a signpost so to speak. Now that with time I've become more 'learn-ed' (hehehe...read, just realising how much I don't know!) I'm realising that the desire for beauty is indeed one of the Transcendentals - the embedded insatiable longings within us which point to an existence more perfect than our own. Let's call that existence Heaven.
What are these longings? You'll recognise them when you read them...I did.
The longing for perfect knowledge/truth
The longing for perfect justice/goodness
The longing for perfect love
The longing for perfect beauty
The longing for perfect home/being.
I'll give an example. There's a road in Connemara, Ireland which is called The Sky Road. Aptly named because there earth and sky seem to marry. On a sunny day I think it must be one of the most beautiful sights known to man. I was there recently very soon after my father died. The day was perfect and though I'm posting a picture, no camera can capture the breath catching beauty unfolded in front of you. It is truly magnificent. However that day it particularly struck me that however beautiful it was and is, something was missing. I cannot grasp that beauty and make it mine. I cannot own it or embrace it, it can't unite itself to me. It cannot satisfy, it leaves a pain of longing...to own and be owned by it. What do we say to babies and little children? "I love you so much I could eat you!" Nothing fully satisfies that longing which haunts us. What beauty is is the signpost to something higher...so much higher...to the Beauty that will satiate, the Beauty which will own and be owned by me.
One rainy evening I was driving my 13 year old home from ballet class when a song came on the radio. At the end of the song she asked me why we can feel some songs in our chest? I think it's because some songs touch that transcendental dissatisfaction, the longing for an untouchable and the hope that one day we will touch.
My father was a very holy man. By Holiness I don't mean piousity which is actually not holiness at all. His was a holiness with it's feet on the ground. One time while holding one of his newborn grandchildren he said that he thought that babies are a glimpse of the Beatific Vision...as close to pure beauty and goodness and being as we can hope. Which of us could tire of looking at our baby, or one close to us? Every eyelash and minute little hair follicle delights us. The desire for beauty is completely superfluous to our survival, it fits uncomfortably with the survival of the fittest narrative which would favour only the functional and useful. Why should we care whether the sky is golden or pink or colours we can't even name? Why should a waterfall delight us but a concrete wall leave us unmoved? Why do we long to be home or to have a home if we're lacking one? Yet when we sit down and the sun shines in we see the dust and the work we need to do. We need to lock our doors and our windows, we need to guard against intruders and hazard. We're home yet still dissatisfied no matter how lovely it may be.
Two Christmases ago my father's house burnt down. He was home in the shower at the time but managed to escape wearing what his friend joked later to be a 'biblical' outfit...that which Adam wore before the fall. It's a long story but while the house was being rebuilt he and my sister and nephew moved from my home, to a house loaned by a friend, to a horrible brown 'rental' which reeked of stale cigarettes, before they could move home. Such an upheaval would have finished off many octogenarians, not my father. When asked how he coped so cheerfully with moving from temporary accommodation to temporary accommodation. He laughed and said "This life is temporary accommodation." He wasn't put out at all because even home is our temporary accommodation.
So why did I call this post ' Is There Ballet In Heaven?". I've been thinking about all the above thoughts very very much in these last weeks and how they connect to my father's death, my own mortality and what lies beyond. Oftentimes as Christians, as Catholics, we rattle off prayers without thinking at all about their content. Sometimes they aren't prayers at all but mumblings rising to heaven with neither heart nor mind accompanying them. We say The Creed...the list of all we believe...I believe in One God etc etc. Do we even know what we're professing half the time. I think a lot of us forget this line.. "I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come." We believe that in Heaven we will be reunited with our body!! Hey! How cool is that? And...we'll be just lovely...perfect in fact.
I'd have loved to have learned ballet. Sadly living in Ireland in the 1970s, neither opportunity nor funds were readily available. I still love ballet and some of my girls have the bug. It was during their recent performance that this post came to me. The human body is objectively God's most beautiful creation. Pope John Paul 2 goes into this in great detail in his astonishing catechesis Theology of The Body. We are the only creatures who experience all these non-survival-related longings. In my opinion, ballet is perhaps the most beautiful the human body can be. In it's classical element goodness wins...the desire for justice is vanquished...the evil witch fails. The prince who rescues with nobility and goodness is not mocked as he is in our culture. Dare I say it, marriage...the full 'knowing' of the other...true beauty, which sees beyond the face...happy ever after and home is still seen as a great good even if our culture has rejected it. All of the transcendental desires are embraced in classical ballet. So beautiful. (These are the thoughts I was having during a children's ballet show.) It made me remember the resurrection of the body. If we'll have our bodies, we'll have things that bodies do, like laughter and singing...and dance. If they delight us here, do you think God will exclude them from Heaven? We don't change species, we don't become angels, we'll still love the things and the people we love...only in an unhindered way.
Oh YES, I think there'll be ballet in Heaven.
And if there is, I hope they have lessons for beginners.