© 2005 by Jim Robinson
Yes. Today, I am thankful. Much of what I’m thankful for, though, isn’t really all that important: my house, my job, my money. God has blessed me indeed with these things, because not that many years ago I had none of them, nor much hope of ever having them again. In my alcoholism, drug addiction, and narcissistic madness, I had lost most of my material things, becoming essentially homeless. And I had destroyed relationships, too, my self-loathing separating me from everyone until my soul felt no longer reachable, my sense of the spiritual flame within me all but extinguished. Near the end, my broken heart was barely beating.
Sixteen years ago, existence was nothing more than a waiting, a resignation. Thirty-four years old, a young man grown strangely old, done with life and living. Here, really, the story should have ended. But something else happened.
Another night. There was really nothing different about this one. I wasn’t in jail, or lying in the twisted wreckage of a car, though I had experienced these things before. Nothing had occurred to create any sort of environment for self-examination, much less conversion; I was incoherent, past saving, really, incapable of accessing my heart, if I had one left. Nothing now but waiting, waiting, just one more shapeless night, one of what seemed like millions all linked together by shadow and emptiness, passing out, passing away . . . down once more into nothingness . . . maybe this time will be it, maybe this time it will end . . . drifting off again into blackness, into the things we remember . . .
Then. Then, instead of death, life. Instead of prison, instead of finally succeeding in going to sleep one night and never waking, of killing or being killed in a car or murdered by a dealer or succumbing from the inevitable overdose, something happened.
It had little to do with me. I had given up. Yet suddenly, in the silent hours before dawn and the world perfectly still, I sat up wide-awake, stone sober, as if I had never slept at all. And on this night, in the unfurnished back room of someone’s house, lying on an old mattress on the floor surrounded by unpacked boxes, something changed. I don’t know what started it, or how it came to be. My memory of the experience begins and ends with this: I awoke, startled, instinctively listening. I could not remember having heard anything, or recall any fragment of dream that might have jerked me out of my stupor. Yet I was certain of some disturbance, of something ominous in the silence pressing in on me. And while my ears strained into the blackness, I became aware of a presence in the room, and somewhere within me, and before I could react I realized that it hadn’t been a sound which had brought me back to my senses, but a force....
I felt suddenly overwhelmed by something—Someone—and felt myself being crushed. The truth of death slammed into me like a train, and I burst into wrenching, agonizing sobs, as if my soul were being torn from my chest, as if there was blood in my tears . . . on my knees, curled over the mattress like a broken bird, my face pressed into the sheets by a weight threatening to smother me, the futility and longing and utter despair of my life weighing down on me until the breath was forced from my body . . . the lost opportunities, the waste of my gifts, the soul-deep hunger for love, for a wife, for children, for the child within me . . . the rush of tastes and smells, spring and flowers and gardens and collies, pencils and chalk, grass and soil and lost turtles and rain and clean quilts . . .winter and fireplaces and Thanksgiving turkeys and cedar Christmas trees . . . crickets and creeks, lightning bugs and bread & butter pickles and childhood, the reason for being, the times of purpose and joy and meaning and belonging, a time of being aware of life and not fearing it . . . the tears pouring out of me like rain, like hard, deep, crystal cleansing rain until I could not breathe at all, could not see or hear or move, until whatever had been haunting me came rushing out with a shudder and a gasp and helpless hollow howling, and then died, the room perfectly quiet. And, for the first time in many years, without moving from the spot, I floated effortlessly into the pure and perfect sleep of a child, to a place far beyond my broken heart.
Waking, I did not move. I lay there, blinking dumbly at the light shining through the window as if I had not seen such a thing in a very long time. For the briefest of moments I wondered if perhaps I’d finally succeeded in killing myself. Then, slowly, I began to feel that just the opposite was true. I could no more put it into words now than I could have then, but somehow—in a way that had much more to do with my heart than with my brain—I knew. I understood.
And though it seemed to me as if many lifetimes had passed since I last called out His name, I suddenly realized something that again brought tears from a place not yet dry: He had not changed. Time meant nothing to Him. Lying there in His arms, in the afterglow of resurrection, I knew that in His eyes I was again a little boy, once more a child.
* * *
Today, I’m putting little photographs of my children in my wallet. My wife has written on the back, marking the time. I stare at them, sometimes—this family, this home. This life, risen from the ashes. These are the things that matter. Even now, I often catch myself startled by the gift, constantly awed by the unlikely reality of them in my life. I’ll sit still (in one of those rare moments, having small children, when it is possible to do so) and watch them, astonished at the sheer wonder of it. They are so much more than I deserve, and so much more than I’d ever hoped or prayed for, that there can be only one possible explanation for their nearness. When I’m lying in bed with my wife, or sitting with my daughter in the backyard listening to the songbirds, or holding the latest last hope for the lineage, baby James, in my arms just before he drifts off to sleep, it becomes as clear to me as it is mysterious.
They are miracles.
And I am thankful.