I take a plane across the country to be with my dad on his 87th birthday. He has a form of dementia that makes it difficult for him to speak much, but he still knows us all by heart. We take him out for dinner and give him chocolate and towels and funny animal cards. We ask him if he wants to make a birthday speech, and he does so, smiling grandly. Although the words are garbled into nonsense, the inflection has a triumphant tone. We clap, all of us silently wishing we knew what he knows he said.
After the others leave, I walk Dad around his assisted living complex to get him calmed down before bed. But he will not be calmed. He wanders from exit to exit, looking for a way out. I stand between him and every door, gently reminding him that it’s night time, he must stay home now.
But going home is exactly what he is trying to do.
After several attempts at escape, Dad begins to wear down. He stares down the hall that leads to his little room and sighs deeply. He appears to be surrendering.
“How do you feel?” I ask him, studying his creased face.
And then, he utters these words with perfect clarity:
“In a state of being dismantled.”
Oh. I see. This is the human condition. For a lot of life, it feels like we are being built up, accumulating height, weight, depth, knowledge, competencies, experiences, memories, and then, suddenly, the little tower of the soul begins to crumble. Bit by bit, we are being dismantled. Or so it seems.
Jesus took a loaf of bread and broke it and blessed it and said, in his barely intelligible Spirit language:
Here’s what’s going to happen. We will all be dismantled. I will be taken away. You will run this way and that. Pieces of my old self will drop like blood along the Via Dolorosa. There will be a lot of tears. But now, let’s eat. Because when everything seems to have fallen apart, you will discover that all the pieces of my body are inside you. And when you come back to yourselves, you will be one loaf again.
I know. It is so difficult to see past the shards of your broken heart. There is not enough glue in the world for all this broken stuff. But even the pieces are pretty in their own way. Sweep them carefully into a safe place and keep them there. And maybe someday, you will feel that heart burning within you again, and you will find it has been reassembled–but in a new shape.