She opened her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness was on her tongue, the tombstone read.
I lace my fingers through my husband's. We stare at the little plot, and bask in delicate January sunlight.
In the heart of downtown Atlanta, away from the ruckus there's a haven of permanent rest. A cemetery surrounded by low, crumbling brick walls, and divided by cobbled pavements. Here in the late afternoon, Chris and I take a walk. Observing and wondering at the legacies buried beneath our feet.
Mothers, sons, grandparents, infants... each plot a story. Each space a life with depth and feeling of its own. We take time to read as many as we can, knowing that no tombstone really does justice to the life it represents.
"It's astounding, isn't it?" I murmur. We turn down the brick path, blinking into white-yellow sun. I feel injustice rising in my chest, injustice and a question.
How does God expect human hearts to bear the trauma of loss? Surely its irrecoverable...?
We plod up the hill, where a large and sprawling tree sits at the top. It's bigger and stronger than all the other ancients planted around it. Its branches reach upward and it sits, as if by design, in the center of the cemetery.
It's not morbid or macabre. It's solemn and provoking, this afternoon walk.
With all the symptoms of being in my 20s, I feel like death is what happens to other people. But not to me. I'm eternal. I'll live forever. I struggle to conceptualize death.
And suddenly I'm struck with how right-- and even normal!-- it feels to think about eternity. It rings true in my gut, in a way death doesn't.
The question lingers in the air between us. It seems so severe, so crushing, so final. How can God expect us to go on living after the death of someone we love?
We walk past the big tree. It reminds me of another.
A tree that brought death to mankind. Death crept into the world when we ran away from God. It was never our intended purpose.
Of course death feels wrong. Of course it feels like fiction, and eternity feels like truth. "He has put eternity into man's heart..." (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
I suppose... the finality of death matches the severity of our sin against God, Chris tries to answer my question. "But it makes God's offer to us more beautiful." Calloused, music-making fingers reach for mine, and warmth sinks into my bones.
Death makes God's offer of eternal life that much more beautiful.
I'm right. Death is too traumatic. So God offers a way out. A way to restore eternity to mankind. He offers himself.
"For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life."
It's not the stuff of science fiction. Eternity feels right.
We walk a little longer before saying goodbye and continuing on in the brightness of the day. The rest of the day is filled with laughter, feasting, friends and a sense of belonging.
The tree doesn't rule and watch over us any longer. A far humbler tree lifts its arms over our heads in love and we feel rest in our life-wearied bones.
For those who choose Jesus, that's all death will ever be: a walk around a cemetery before entering into the unending joy and brilliance of being back where we belong.