Last Wednesday, the kids and I went to church. As I was dropping the last kiddo off at her respective activity, I exited the building and walked across the parking lot just in time to see a dog dash out the front door of a small apartment and run into an oncoming truck. This is not my idea of a good day. In fact, I was 25 yards from the incident, and I dropped to a squat and nearly got sick. I watched the little dog twist and writhe and give that last horrific wiggle before all was still.
I watched the dog’s owner, a single mother, twist into hysterics. She pointed to her front door and said her five-year-old daughter was inside. I offered my comfort as best I could, but I could not touch that dog. I could not pull its body out of the street or wrap it up in plastic or close its eyes. Eventually, some other people from our church gathered around and helped her get the lifeless little thing to the vet. I’m sure he died if he wasn’t already dead.
After that, I just couldn’t go to Bible study, and so I went and got myself a cup of coffee until it was time to pick up my kids. I sat there wondering if there was something more I needed to do. I thought of buying the little girl a pumpkin or a teddy bear. I thought maybe I could buy her some groceries, but, I didn’t feel immediately compelled to do anything, but wait and listen.
When I finished my coffee it was time to pick up the kids. As I loaded the last one in the car, which was parked in the same parking lot I was walking across when I saw the dog get hit, I saw a man struggling with a woman. She was collapsing in his arms and he could hardly maintain control of her. He was trying to get her in the car, but she was dead weight and he was about to fall down himself. So, I walked 25 yards over to this man and helped him put this woman in the car. She literally collapsed across the front seat. This man’s stress was so palpable, and he rushed off without saying anything to me.
Weird night. In fact, that was my first Wednesday night at church in more than three years, as I’ve been just a little busy having two children passed the age of 38 and holding down a demanding job. Thankfully, things have eased up, and I can do more of the things I really enjoy like attending mid-week services
Sunday morning, a song was running through my head, which seems to be what I was waiting to hear. It was an old hymn from my childhood, and one my father dearly loved. As I sang it to myself, I could see my dad sitting to the right of the pulpit and looking up to the heavens and wiping the mist from his eyes. My dad always told me I would never fully know the depth of God’s love for me. I’d get so bored when he’d say stuff like that, but, through the mortar fire of the years, I learned firsthand that he was right.
We can talk all day long to people about God’s love, but as that hymn reminded me yesterday, “it is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.” Material gestures pacify, more or less, some obligation I feel, as well aid my own need for closure. Touching the lowest hell, like God does, involves so much more, like holding someone’s hand while mortar rounds slam into their lives.
Here is a modern version of that hymn, which I found on YouTube. When I listened to the words, I couldn’t help but think that the love of God reaches down into my father’s lowest hell: Alzheimer’s. This hymn was written in 1917 by Frederick Lehman in Pasadena, California. Interestingly, that is one of the places where my father attended college. The lyrics are based on the Jewish poem Haddamut, written in Aramaic in 1050 by Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell…
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.