It is a little after midnight on the last night he’ll spend in the city he’s lived in for most of the past thirty years. The air is heavy, humid but with no threat of rain, just droplets of water hanging in the air, as visible as dust motes passing through moonlight.
The rental truck is in the driveway, but still without cargo. Tomorrow is going to be a long day, he thinks as he takes in the boxes and bins, the stacks of milk crates full of books, piled and pushed back against the wall, leaving only a bare, empty spot in the middle of his living room. He’s sitting on the floor at the center of all this debris, surrounded by the things he can’t let go of, the ones he doesn’t know if he should, the stuff he has had no time to take the measure of, to determine if it belongs to those things left behind or those which will remind him of who he is, who he wants to be, who he could be if given the chance.
He’s thinking about Job again, his companion, his doppelganger, the ghost that has followed him for the past three years, nodding knowingly at every tragic moment, silently at his side through every moan and wail he lifted up as the weight of all this pushing down brought him to his knees, then to his hands and knees, and then not even that–just pressed into the dirt, face down against the ground.
Job was a righteous man, upstanding and clean-hearted in the eyes of God. And he was a man who had it all, every blessing God could bestow on him was his. He was admired and loved by friends and neighbors and he stood blameless before his God.
And, as the book relates in a few quick lines, all of it taken away. Everything goes. If we could wrap our minds around the abruptness of his devastation our breath would leave us, our minds given over to vertigo, our knees buckle and our souls shiver and shrink away inside of our bodies, desperate not to see it, frantic to find a place to hide lest whatever curse tearing through and dismantling his life with complete and gleeful abandon turn its attention on us.
The loss is total. In a society that equates wealth and success with blessing, and poverty and failure with curse, Job appears to have committed some crime so heinous that his former friends are consumed by rumor and innuendo, gossip and speculation, and they argue amongst themselves and to Job about what wrong he committed, what depravity he hides, what seed of sin is rooted so deeply in him that God himself has rained down such destruction and judgment upon him.
He smiles grimly at this. He knows that sometimes there is no explanation, no understandable karma, no real reason for why things happen. It just happens. We don’t get what we deserve; we just get what we get. And you buckle and fold and fall and stay down. Or you buckle and fold and fall down … and then, eventually, you get up again. For some it takes longer than others. There is no timetable.
Thinking about Job is like running his finger over a scar, a reminder of the wound that almost did him in, the one that left him disfigured. How he hovered between the desire to close his eyes and let death take him and the responsibilities which life demanded he not set aside or turn away from. Funny how sometimes responsibility is all that holds us here. Responsibility stronger than pain, stronger than despair, stronger than grief.
Like Job, he knows firsthand how dizzyingly quick and complete the change can happen, the turn from a life replete with purpose and beauty and meaning and joy to a living death, a field pummeled and left scarred and unrecognizable by tornado after tornado after tornado, ripping up the ground and carrying off everything he knew and loved.
So he thought. For a long time. And he laughs again, quietly.
Sitting here now, the angle has changed. The tornado after tornado after tornado swept away almost everything and everyone in whom he had poured himself—almost being the great qualifier here. Some things were left and some people stayed. He could now ponder these things and these people, curious about who and what he had valued before and how things had changed.
The life that had seemed full before now struck him as having maybe been too crowded, overgrown, strangled so that there was little space for anything new, no room for surprise, for wonder. In moments of gentleness and quiet, he could sense the faint stirrings of new life in him and around him, unfolding, searching, reaching tentatively, tenderly upward.
Exhausted and alone, in the silence of a life finally and fully dismantled, he’s surrounded by the few bones left to him, the ones he’ll carry with him and upon which he’ll fashion new flesh, new muscle, new tissue and skin, the beginnings of a new body, the disparate parts he’ll knit together to make a new life.
Grief and pain come with a swagger, a completely unearned confidence that they know the future, that it will unfold inch by inch to reveal itself as just as miserable as the present. In the throes of our own mortal suffering, such evidence seems overwhelming.
Half to himself, half to no one in particular, he speaks the next words aloud: “All we can do is wait.”
Wait, and see.