Pinnacles of joy are only mountains beyond which there are many more mountains...
- Posted on Jan 19, 2017
And they mourned over him, saying, “Alas, my brother!” 1 Kings 13:30 (ESV)
Another thing about joy is that you never stop being surprised by the deeper levels of joy and how joy is like an elevator that keeps going down another floor farther than you knew there were floors and how what you thought were the pinnacles of joy were only mountains beyond which there are many more mountains, some of them shrouded in darkness.
For example, this odd, painful, strange, subtle, awful, sweet joy last year: my oldest brother was dying of cancer. He had cancer everywhere. He lost a hundred pounds. He lost his hair. He lost his balance. But he never lost his sidelong grin—never.
Right near the end he and I went driving through his favorite forest, and even though he could hardly speak and his death was sitting companionably in the backseat, we were both filled with joy. We were brothers for 55 years, and about ten years before he died we got to be the same age finally, as sometimes happens with brothers if they are lucky, and we were happy together watching birds and playing chess and trading silly postcards.
He died on the first day of summer. There is a hole in the world the size of the man he used to be before cancer ate him. There will always be that big grinning hole in me and in his family and in his thousand friends. But here is a joy persistent and insistent, a joy that death cannot steal: I was graced to be that man’s brother, and he loved me and I loved him.
What used to be his body is now ash in the dense soil of Illinois. But who he is, who he always is, is in me and those he loved, and every time I think of this lovely terrible truth, I grin... as he would, side longingly.
Dear Profligate Deliverer of Brothers, well, You were especially generous to me, insofar as I was given six of them. But You have seen fit to retrieve four over the years, which was hard for me to endure, but I am pretty sure it is You whispering in my ear that I will see them again in the fullness of time and that will be a day of unimaginable joy.