All that each person is, and experiences, and shall never experience, in body and in mind, all these things are differing expressions of himself and of one root, and are identical: and not one of these things nor one of these persons is ever quite to be duplicated, nor replaced, nor has it ever quite had precedent: but each is a new and incommunicably tender life, wounded in every breath, and almost as hardly killed as easily wounded: sustaining, for a while, without defense, the enormous assaults of the universe. -James Agee
Recently I had the opportunity to walk through one of those epiphanal moments with a friend. Her husband was passing away after years battling a variety of ailments. I visited, week in and week out, in care facilities, hospitals and finally at home and observed friendship and love as my friend and her husband said goodbye. Their relationship was so close my friend would not hear of being parted from him even as his needed care intensified to the point that she should have been letting others help. In her seventies, she continued to do the work of blessing her bed-imprisoned spouse as his health faded.
Their love caused a pause in my heart for I had known their story. My friend was on her second marriage, her first a tragic train wreck that wounded her soul and ended in divorce. Her life had been difficult from its beginnings, raised and orphaned in a developing nation, but her first marriage added pain and mistreatment. Eventually, rather than succumbing to the depressing circumstances of her life she fought back, divorcing… but not isolating. She cared for her first husband even as his life faded away.
And this relationship that I was witnessing, was the end of a rebirthing. From the ashes of her tragic childhood, and the charred brokenness of her first marriage, she had been blessed for a few decades at the end of her life with a romance most associate with youth instead of retirement.
As Agee observed, humans are the most amazing creatures. Wounded in every breath but difficult to end, we are literal examples of the violence and grace that characterize our world. My friend had lived through loss first with parents, then with marriage and lived on to love again, becoming a personal symbol for those of us watching, of the resiliency of the human heart.
Hearts are not all that is resilient about us though. Dr Judith Reisman has chronicled the devastating effects of pornography on the human mind. Upon viewing these images, the body releases testosterone, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, a combination Reisman refers to as erotoxin. She suspects it is damaging to the human body as well as mind. When someone views this material it as though they start moving faster internally with much less being accomplished elsewhere in their life. One friend of mine who had some experience with addiction, likened it to having his engine’s RPM’s constantly revved yet it was as though his tires were suspended above the earth like a car on blocks in some back yard. However, every day, stories come to light of people who have become addicted to this sad, cultural trend walking free, enjoying their sexuality in healthy relationships. The brain, once submitted to the toxic and addictive chemicals still retains the potential for greatness, even fidelity.
One of my closest friends spent years burnt out on heroine. From the heady and thrilling setting of the academy where he began to experiment to the less safe streets where drugs are sold openly, he experienced the many aspects of drug culture. Eventually homeless, he was sentenced by a benevolent judge to a spiritually-charged, Christian rehabilitation program that introduced him to Christ and required thirteen months of his life.
I still recall his response to being asked to fill the role of lead trustee for our church, a position that entrusted him with financial book keeping. He informed me that at one time he had stolen from a church as the offering plate had passed in front of him in a worship service. Were we sure that we wished to entrust him with such a role after the history he had lived? My friend filled the role admirably with no hint of scandal, reminding us that the human spirit is resilient.
Doctors show us images of the human lung after it has inhaled nicotine, tar and smoke for decades. The images are always powerful deterrents. But then come the images of what happens when someone, even after years of addiction, quits. The lungs return to function, often to an almost 100% capacity.
Our bodies are remarkable testaments of the resiliency with which we are created. Think of our largest organ—our skin. Science tells us that each month cells die. We are burned, scratched, cut, calloused and worn so consistently that we often fail to even notice the damage. Yet our skin cells are dying by the millions. According to urban legend, a great deal of the dust one finds in a home is probably merely dead skin cells. (When I was young my brother and I read this and shared it with our younger siblings capitalizing on the news by rubbing our hands over food at dinner to attain an emotional response.) But in a miracle that is generally less publicized, our cells reproduce, constantly replacing themselves. Every month to six weeks it is estimated that we have a completely new layer of skin. Our body’s largest organ is wholly regenerated as often as nine times in a single year!
Cells speedily rebuilding themselves to keep our frames covered; an interested glance at a seniors ballroom reminding a woman that even in her broken sixties she is attractive; a worshipful heart replacing the lusts of flesh and eyes and the pride of life with the desire to please the One greater than ourselves. We are built for immortality and in the death-filled reality of our world we must instead settle for resurrection, for redemption. Though not the original plan it is still appointed once unto man to die. And yet that death, a part of everything around us, is constantly overcome in ways temporary or eternal. Resurrection is as much more powerful than death as mitosis is than a burn or as the second vows are than a first divorce.
So let us tear ourselves apart from the ever-flowing news sources of our world that cause us to focus again and again on its defeats, the moments when the woundings finally overcome lost and broken souls. For human beings are evidence of not merely death but also resurrection. It is microcosmically lived out within us and among us on an almost constant level. Born for immortality we may grovel in the dust. Yet stars glimmer in our eyes and eternity is imbedded even within our most overlooked components. The grace observable in second marriages, in recovering addicts, in our very beings, should compel us to balance the brokenness around us with praise for the way we are created. Remarkably resilient, from the heart’s most mysterious inner longings to the skin’s outer shell, we are evidence of the hope that endows our world with expectant grace.