I was reflecting on why I have been so remiss about writing my thoughts and sharing them here.
I must admit, a small part of my aversion to our blog in the last months is that it made me sad whenever I opened it and saw Godfrey's smiling face and yet he is missing from this wonderful world that we've come back to and the friends we've been reconnecting with since we got back to Uganda at the end of September. On some level, I still expect to see him. It feels like he could just show up, or walk around a corner, or call. When I put my old Ugandan sim card back in the phone, it was painful to delete his number, especially when I clicked on "options" with a menu that suggested I might also "call" him or "send a message." Another good friend recently fell quite sick. At least this time I could take her to the hospital, check on the care she was getting and be present with her while we hoped for recovery (she's doing much better now). I can't deny, I was afraid of losing another friend. The average life expectancy in Uganda is 51 (UNICEF 2008). Of course, none of these things can be taken for granted, but it struck me that based on our nations statistics and health care I am likely to continue living while many of my friends go through the end of life. In a kind of typical life progression and western psychological expectation of the kinds of things that different age categories deal with, this seems like something that would have come later in life--my parent's generation is only just beginning to have life expectancy ages in their peer group. But lately, it seems like our peers are inviting us either to weddings, kids baptisms or burials--and these are all ceremonies happening in the same phase of life--ours. It makes me think about death more, being nearer it than I (at least felt) in the US or UK. (this preoccupation might also be encouraged by the absolutely terrifying driving conditions we sometimes encounter on Ugandan roads)
Yesterday we had a wonderful day of celebrating Ben's birthday. In the evening we sat with good friends under a canopy of stars around a fire pit near a palm tree in our garden after a delicious meal. I was quietly thinking of conversations with Ugandan friends recently that have reflected their surprise and delight at having reached another birthday and another new year. Maybe that's why my increasing cognizance of the unavoidable reality of death doesn't seem at all depressing but is producing a really lovely kind of gratitude for life. Somehow our conversation turned to some eschatological issues, life after death, what happens, what we imagine, and some theological questions that I've been rather intentionally lazy about trying to answer for myself. It's mostly because I don't think I'll be able to figure it out (if I thought I had figured it out, I would assume I was probably wrong) and because I just trust that's it's all going to be good--even better than anything I might try to imagine. For human beings to attempt to grasp it seems like a fetus trying to understand the world outside a mother's womb. After a short silence with only the sound of our crackling fire and the wind in the trees, one of our friends said, "It's nights like tonight that make you wish you could forget that there's suffering in the world." "hmm," I realized outloud, "I appreciate nights like tonight because there is suffering in the world." Someone asked why and the same friend that posed the question said, "because of the contrast." Yes. That's what makes it sweet and that's what makes whatever comes next sweet. Death has lost it's sting because of the contrast.