Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Like Peering Through a Mist

“We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!”    ~1 Corinthians 13:12, The Message

The sound was haunting as I turned up the bush-lined dirt driveway.  Unsure of exactly where to go or what to say when I got to the house, each step was like slogging through wet concrete – I knew if I didn’t keep going, I was likely to get stuck, trapped by fear of the unknown.

A few women stood the front of the house; many others had gone in to where the body had been laid … where the wailing was concentrated.  Behind the house I could see some men and a few ladies.  As I walked toward the back with my grocery sacks (rice, tinned fish, coffee, toilet paper … just a few things to help provide for the mourners that would be at the haus krai (crying house) around-the-clock in the coming days), I noticed a man standing by himself near the door.

“Excuse me, do you know if Freddie is here?” I asked in Tok Pisin, the main trade language of PNG.

“Yes,” the gentle-faced man replied, also in Tok Pisin.  He offered a slight smile.  “I’m his father.  Let me get him for you.”

As he turned to go, my head spun and I quickly processed what this meant.  If this man is Freddie’s father, then he is also the father of Bettie, Freddie’s fourteen-year-old sister … the one who had a heart attack and died last night.

“Sir,” I spoke quickly, reaching out toward him, feeling that I shouldn’t let him, or the moment, get away.  “I’m Sharon, one of Freddie’s teachers.  I am so very sorry about your daughter …”

I probably stand six inches taller than Orava, but it wasn’t awkward when he hugged me, grateful that I had come.  Along with the time I subsequently spent with Freddie, it was one of the most precious moments I had had since coming to Papua New Guinea.

A few minutes later, while talking to my student, I said, “I lost a brother a few years ago.  It was very difficult.  So, I don’t know exactly, but I think I understand a little bit of what you’re going through.”

Though he had not been crying when he came out of the house, as I prayed for him, I could tell that this adorable boy, hardworking student, kind friend to others, brother of Bettie, was sniffling.  Then it hit me:

“God comforts us in our weaknesses so that we might comfort others.”

Several minutes later I entered the front of the house to pay my condolences to Leah, their mother.  The small living area was lined with people, mostly women, sitting along the walls.  All of the furniture, except for the couch holding Bettie’s body, had been moved out to allow for maximum capacity.  About a dozen more people – men and women – surrounded her, many wailing, most crying.  Bettie had been born with a heart defect which, regardless of her level of privilege, had unfortunately been inoperable, and now her time had come.  The girl was beautiful – without the pale blue hue fairer-skinned people take on after death.  Aside from the muscle stiffness made obvious as people stroked her and tried to hold on to her hands and fingers, Bettie could very well have just been sleeping peacefully.

But she had better things to do.

Less than an hour before her heart attack, Bettie had been worshiping at the weekly youth group meeting … squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.  Experiencing but a foretaste of the pure joy on which she was soaring now.

A few minutes after I left the house, I found a beautiful moth on the ground, his wings gently opening and closing.  I placed my finger under his feet and he crawled on, allowing me to carry him as I proceeded toward the Primary Campus for my morning class.  While I walked, I studied his velvet black wings with their bright orange stripes and fluorescent blue and purple spots.  Surely, days ago, I thought to myself, he, too, was experiencing life through a fog, bound to this earth by stubby little legs.  

Then, as I stood in the middle of the road, transfixed by his gracefulness, he lifted off and flew breezily, freely, into the sky.

(This entry was originally published in our January 2011 newsletter.)

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(Updated 13 April 2013)