It sounded for all the world like a bookshelf or other piece of furniture had toppled and crashed to the floor. I ran into the living room, looking for the mess – only to find that everything was fine. Chuck went into the basement in search of the offending stack of boxes – but found nothing. Again, all appeared to be well.
Then the scratching started. And the screeching. And the mewing.
Something in our house was alive and inside the wall.
We went through the process of alerting the landlord and leaving messages for the local animal control agencies, but it was after 5pm. Everything was closed for the day. Eventually, we popped in earplugs, finished out the evening and went to sleep.
In the morning, all was silent. For a moment. But then Chuck went down to the basement to check on some laundry and there they were: three baby raccoons.
Somehow, those fuzzy wobbly creatures had managed to work their way through the wall and into the basement while we slept. One part vicious, three parts precious, they wriggled and mewed around the basement with a certain urgency, never stopping to rest or take in their surroundings.
The kids were looking for mom.
As it turns out, mom was no longer in the picture. More than likely, during our big rainstorm her den was flooded and she made the decision to move the kids to higher, dryer ground. The gap in our chimney seemed perfect, so one by one she lugged each wriggling cub up a tree, across the roof and up the chimney, stuffing them away where they would be safe. After that, she left and, likely hit by a car, did not return. The kids were on their own. Not understanding, they began to search for her and, in their searching, they fell down a gap into our wall, ultimately winding up in our basement, hungry and alone.
All week my heart has ached for those little raccoons. Perhaps it’s because a dear friend recently lost her mother, or perhaps it’s because the hype of Mother’s Day always reminds me of all the people who grieve for mothers lost, mothers absent or neglectful, children gone or children never had. Perhaps it’s all of that and more. One way or the other, the thought of cubs lost in a dark and unknown place, thirsting for one who will not return…well, the thought destroys me.
It also convicts me.
So often, dear Church, we do a poor job of remembering these losses when this holiday rolls around. We give out carnations or daisies to the moms in worship and, if we’re really sensitive and enlightened, we also present flowers to every sister, daughter, aunt and friend in the place. No one is left out, except for the grief.
In the midst of our celebration, and our fear of truly acknowledging the ugly in the world while inside our safe sanctuaries, we sometimes miss the opportunity to name that unnamed guest in our midst: Loss.
The women taken in childbirth, lost to violence or addiction or mental illness, killed by car wrecks or cancer or other disease. The children lost to SIDS, birth defects, illness or miscarriage. The abortions. The empty cradles caused by infertility. All of these losses and more will be present in the pews this Sunday, silent specters whispering despair in the pauses between prayer and song.
And if we recognize them, if we name them gently and frankly within the space we’ve carved out for worship, it is holy. There is no diminishing of our celebration and joy when we acknowledge those who have come before us and those who will not follow us. Instead, having named that ghostly grief, we give it flesh – and the dry bones of those we loved and lost (or never had) can get up and dance, if only for a moment.
We are a resurrection people. At our best, we know that death and loss and despair do not have the final word – but instead, there is hope for new life and reunion and joy within the Kin-dom of God. But in order for resurrection to be possible, we must acknowledge death. In order for joy to be made real, we must acknowledge despair and grief. We must name them instead of avoiding them – even when it is frightening or unsettling to do so.
Avoidance and hope are poor dance partners. They simply can’t sync up, moving to two entirely different beats. So, as we compose and orchestrate our worship for this Mother’s Day, let’s not invite avoidance to the party. We don’t have to be disingenuous or go overboard with our lamentations – but we do need to save some space for those we have lost.
In so doing, our celebration is not diminished but broadened because we honor the lives and gifts of women in all places and all times: mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, friends…and maybe even raccoons.