By the time I was a young woman, I had already experienced a great deal of death. It started with my best friend, Lynn, from 5th grade, who died of leukemia. In middle school, a family friend died of AIDS before the HIV cocktails had even been concocted. His death was followed by my beloved grandma who died of cirrhosis of the liver when I was in high school. That was followed very shortly by another close friend, David, who was hit on his motorcycle by a drunk driver. After that, it was classmates in high school, then classmates in college, then my uncle (who had survived and was in recovery from his own addiction, only to be killed by a drunk driver). And then my gramps. Six weeks before our wedding, my fiance’s father died of cancer (his mother had died of cancer before we met). The grief of loss has plagued me most of my life.
One of the striking characteristics of such grief is how very different the world looks the day after the shocking news. Usually, I woke up, and for a moment everything felt right as rain. But then the memory of the news hit like a truck, and the entire world looked, smelled, and felt wrong. The sky was the wrong shade of blue or gray. The air smelled stale and sour. Textures of clothing felt scratchier. The presence of people seemed more abhorrent. Nothing felt the same, and indeed, nothing was ever the same again. I simply had to learn to live with a new normal. Each and every time.
This cry in Lamentations describes a similar experience. The people of Israel had sinned, and God had exiled them. Nothing would ever be the same for them again. They would have to live with a new normal. Even after being restored, they would be living with a new normal. But God can take the new normal and make it more palatable. And as Israel and we adjust, the new normal can move from palatable to tasty to utterly delicious. Colors start to look brighter. Bed starts to offer refreshing sleep once again. The presence of people becomes comforting – their platitudes seem to move from offensive to genuinely comforting.
The world will never look like it once did when fairies flew and loved ones lived. But this world can still look beautiful – messy, chaotic, sometimes empty – and excruciatingly brilliant in its imperfection.
How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer. Jerusalem remembers, in the days of her affliction and wandering, all the precious things that were hers in days of old. When her people fell into the hand of the foe, and there was no one to help her, the foe looked on mocking over her downfall. Jerusalem sinned grievously, so she has become a mockery; all who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans, and turns her face away. Her uncleanness was in her skirts; she took no thought of her future; her downfall was appalling, with none to comfort her. “O Lord, look at my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed!” Enemies have stretched out their hands over all her precious things; she has even seen the nations invade her sanctuary, those whom you forbade to enter your congregation. All her people groan as they search for bread; they trade their treasures for food to revive their strength. Look, O Lord, and see how worthless I have become.
Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger. From on high he sent fire; it went deep into my bones; he spread a net for my feet; he turned me back; he has left me stunned, faint all day long. My transgressions were bound into a yoke; by his hand they were fastened together; they weigh on my neck, sapping my strength; the Lord handed me over to those whom I cannot withstand. The Lord has rejected all my warriors in the midst of me; he proclaimed a time against me to crush my young men; the Lord has trodden as in a wine press the virgin daughter Judah. For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my courage; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed. Zion stretches out her hands, but there is no one to comfort her; the Lord has commanded against Jacob that his neighbors should become his foes; Jerusalem has become a filthy thing among them. The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word; but hear, all you peoples, and behold my suffering; my young women and young men have gone into captivity. I called to my lovers but they deceived me; my priests and elders perished in the city while seeking food to revive their strength. See, O Lord, how distressed I am; my stomach churns, my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious. In the street the sword bereaves; in the house it is like death. They heard how I was groaning, with no one to comfort me. All my enemies heard of my trouble; they are glad that you have done it. Bring on the day you have announced, and let them be as I am. Let all their evil doing come before you; and deal with them as you have dealt with me because of all my transgressions; for my groans are many and my heart is faint.