Yesterday I cried whilst the rice was boiling. Not that the rice was taking an especially long time to boil, though it remains true that a watched pot never boils. No, it was more than that. Let’s take a couple of steps back for some context.
The latest series of the BBC’s Sherlock finally airs here in a few days’ time, and thus far I’ve remained mercifully spoiler free (keep it that way, please). I decided to fill the time waiting for the new series with a re-viewing of series 1 and 2; last night, whilst the rice was boiling I watched the last episode of season 2. Which, as everyone knows by now, [SPOILER] ends with Sherlock apparently plunging to his own (self-inflicted) death, maneuvered into a nightmarish corner by Moriarty. Of course, we know from the final scene of the show and the fact that series 3 is coming that the death was staged. We won’t know, however, how this was achieved until series 3 airs; at the end of series 2 every character apart from Sherlock thinks Sherlock is dead. It ends with a poignant scene as Watson lingers at his friend’s grave asking for ‘one more miracle … don’t be dead‘.
That was what made me cry. This last few days I’d been thinking often of my friend who died at the hands of terrorists just four months ago. I don’t want him to be dead. Rewind history, please. Make the bullets take a different path, make him take the trip to the mall on a different day.
Whatever the circumstances we’ve all been there or will be there one day, wanting someone not to be dead. Which is where I was, and why I found myself crying as the rice boiled. Fiction like Sherlock Holmes is many things, not least wish-fulfilment. We all wish we noticed that much, we all wished everything could be solved with the ruthless application of logic, and we all wish people who are dead weren’t. The more inevitable a resounding ‘no’ becomes, the more we wish it wasn’t so. Not for nothing is acceptance of the new, painful reality a part of the widely recognised 5 stages of grieving.
Acceptance is a hard and tantalizingly shifting goal. If the person we’ve lost didn’t mean something to us, acceptance wouldn’t be so hard to attain. It’s often confused with resignation – a benign shrugging of the shoulders, a reluctant tipping over of the king on the chessboard when there’s no other option. It’s not so; acceptance is hard-bought and hard-fought to hang on to. Circumstances, reminders, anniversaries, anything really, can take us to that place of wishing he was back with us, that she hadn’t gone. Nothing to be done about it, but we go there nonetheless.
As with death, so with any loss – illness, moving house or city or country, end of a relationship or job, a new stage of life for you or someone you love – all these and more are bereavements to which we are constantly challenged to reach that point of acceptance. Even if the change is on the face of it a good one, we need to reach a point of acknowledging and accepting the loss in order to properly re-engage with the new reality. The human desire to turn back the clock or rewrite the story is a ubiquitous one; from social media to games to alternative history fiction and more, all give us the opportunity to un-make something we want to change or are just curious to see what it could have looked like. Entertaining, natural to some extent – but potentially damaging to the process of healing, the journey towards acceptance.
Acceptance is especially hard to hold to when what we need to accept seems to sit in opposition to something we hold dear … justice, equality, the power of our God to heal. To speak of acceptance in such contexts seems like surrender, a lack of faith or courage.
Or maybe not. Maybe true acceptance – the realisation that this is real and isn’t going away any time soon – is the level ground we need in order to take a firm stand. We can’t protest something we don’t really accept the reality of, after all; we can’t seek healing for a diagnosis we don’t believe. Acceptance isn’t surrender – it’s the end of one process, and the beginning of another; one which leads to change.
Think of Jesus in Gethsemane, the night before his death. Desperate for a change in circumstances, sweating blood, asking for help … but accepting at the end of it all that the decision doesn’t lie in His hands, and whatever will come, will come. You can see many of those 5 stages of grief in that once incident, denial being perhaps the one that doesn’t fit with a divine man (though that’s more than made up for by Peter et al.). Anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance are all writ deep in the Passion narrative of the incarnate God. We all know the story ends not with death, but an empty tomb.
Acceptance for most of us may not lead to immediate change; but for the Christian it always leads to resurrection – the transcendence of simply defining an illness as an illness, a loss as a loss, a death as a death. Acceptance leads to resurrection which means the object of our acceptance becomes part of a deeper and wider and truer reality. What that looks likes may be beyond our control, but is ours still to discover, or allow others to discover when we’ve gone. Alternatively acceptance can give us that level ground from which to actually do something. This is real now; we’ve accepted it’s part of reality. Good; then we shall do something about it. Imagine if God had just pretended we people didn’t have a problem. Acceptance of the problem was the start of salvation.
Acceptance really isn’t resignation, defeat or faithlessness. It’s a launchpad for resurrection.
The thing is, though, in this, for now, I don’t want to accept. I’m still asking for the miracle. Maybe it’s something to do with the violence, something to do with the public nature of it all. Maybe it’s connected to my role as pastor. I don’t know. I do know I can see new life springing up, but I’m not quite there in my heart and soul.
As I stumble towards the launchpad, a few steps forward, a few back; as I slouch roughly and reluctantly towards resurrection, stay with me a while, would you?