The Land of the Living
By Andrea Fifield
“There is a land of the living and the land of the dead and
the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey
“For you have rescued my soul from death, my eyes
from tears, my feet from stumbling. I shall walk before
the Lord in the land of the living.” -Psalm 116:9
Sometimes it’s difficult to see the beauty in being broken.
It’s especially hard when the rest of the world moves on while you are left straggling behind, haphazardly picking up fragments of yourself and sloppily piecing them back together. You become acutely aware that, at any given moment, you might very well just fall apart. People keep their distance for fear of getting pierced by the slivers and shards of your splintered heart. But it’s in that moment, in that state– when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable– shattered almost beyond repair and beyond recognition, that we are the most usable vessels. Authenticity begins to seep through the cracks when hope holds us together like glue.
It was July when I was slowly and quietly disappearing in a downward spiral.
Like the tiny whirlpool at the bottom of the bathtub just before the water falls down the drain. I put on a black hand-me-down dress that I found in my closet and stared vacantly as a stranger lowered my dead baby down into the ground. The parade of solemn faces at the funeral became a confusing blur and the sound of hushed condolences a muffled drone. I came home to bouquets of limp flowers hanging on for dear life. Although sent with good intentions, they all eventually hung their heads and surrendered their last breaths. I was surrounded by death.
It was everywhere. I could breathe it in. It was the land of the living dead.
But my infant son wasn’t the only one buried that day. The me that I used to know, along with all of my great expectations for the man he would become, how my life would look with him in it, and the way our lives would intersect and intertwine and wind increasingly together like vines, were also shoveled down into the dirt. I died, too, that day. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
We were both planted together deep into the damp coolness of the earth.
Like seeds. Seeds watered with the tears of all those who loved us. Seeds lying dormant for a time, yet still so full of hope and promise. And in that moment, hidden away there in the darkness, “I might have despaired unless I believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). And so it was, with a seed of faith and an inkling of hope in things yet unseen, that I waited.
In the depths of despair, I waited on the Lord.
Then, at just the precise moment–right when I had begun to think He had abandoned me–He made good on His promise. Slowly, I started to rise. The soil above my head began to give way. I strained my unaccustomed eyes toward the light and felt the sun’s warm rays greet the paleness of my face. The gentle wind blew wisps of hair in my face and seemed to whisper softly in my ears:
Come back. Come back to the land of the living. We have all been waiting for you here. You will learn to smile again. You will learn to laugh again. Give yourself permission to be happy. All that pain was not for nothing. It had meaning and it had purpose. It was for this moment. Right here. Right now. Those were just the birth pangs, and this–this is the moment you are coming alive.
It was in this moment I realized that “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” It was in this moment I realized that the end is really just the beginning. The beginning of finding beauty in being broken. The beginning of bearing much fruit. The beginning of smiling and laughing and happiness–not despite the hole he left in my heart, but because of it. Because I was born to be free. He was born to free me.
Andrea Fifield is a teacher, aspiring writer, bereaved mom of 1 and swim mom of 4. Her writing is inspired by life, love, and loss. She blogs about all these things at Following the Fifields.
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