Just now in our living room, there was a bump! and my wife cried out in pain. It was only a soft cry, but it cut so deep. I bolted into the kitchen expecting the worst, only to find her with a wry smile on her face, holding a finger she’d jammed in a door: downplaying the whole thing. I felt a little silly.
As I sat back down on the lounge, tears welled up inside, the grief so strong I could barely speak. Another stream of life had been triggered by that soft cry, taking me all the way back to a sound my mother would make when she was calling for help.
She had Motor Neurone disease and was confined to a wheelchair for many years. As her body wasted away, she was often needing us young boys to help her move, eat and sit more comfortably; and there were times when we were far too slow to respond, even pretending we couldn’t hear her.
Before her voice fell silent altogether, there was another sound that would stop me in my tracks. It came at unexpected moments. We would be about to leave the house to go do some work for dad or play in the dam. As we were about to leave, we would see her pushing herself up on her elbows—in her wheelchair—and taking long slow breaths. This was the cue for us to stop and wait for her to speak: most likely a one sentence speech to us about God’s love, about this other stream of life that (for me) carried the music of a beautiful and dangerous mystery: the secret of her power to defy despair—not with grim determination—but with the sweet grace of Jesus, who had clearly made her heart his home.
One particular moment I remember was when the three of us were lined up in front of her with our hats and water bottles, ready to cut some Bathurst Burr. Once she had got enough air into her lungs, she said to us, ‘Remember this, boys: Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with you.”’
As the growing-up child of a great love warrior, I came to despise the heroes of the art world who romanticised despair and claimed that my mum and dad had made a naive mistake. Instead, I treasured her talk (and her paradoxical embodiment) of a mysterious and beautiful being whose spirit longs to live in us like a fountain of hope and joy; and I was delighted whenever I felt it in others. George MacDonald is one of those and puts the music out there in the following words…
“I am always hearing. . . the sound of a far-off song. I do not exactly know where it is, or what it means; and I don’t hear much of it…what I do hear, is quite enough to make me able to bear the cry from the drowning ship… Somehow, I can’t say how, it tells me that all is right; that it is coming to swallow up all the cries. . . . It wouldn’t be the song it seems if it did not swallow up all their fear and pain too, and set them singing it themselves with all the rest.” (George MacDonald, At The Back Of The North Wind)