Paul insisted that we see through a glass darkly. I recently saw a picture of an old Roman mirror. It looked like a frying pan. Almost no reflection, no gleam. But one day something like scales will fall from our eyes and we will see as we are seen and know as we are known. That’s a promise, and one fraught with vivid hope for me. Communion can seem fairly elusive in a world in which every person is a mystery. Sometimes it feels like we love and interact and hardly even know each other, barely brushing spirit shoulders with these luminous beings which surround us on every side.
Certainly, I believe that communion is possible; I have experienced it from time to time—that sort of mutual understanding that surpasses words. On a bench in the temple just before my wife and I were married. When laughing with another person at some shared humor. In moments of joint gratitude. Or singing hymns; I have looked around on more than one occasion with a sort of shock to realize that all these people with all these different lives are singing the same words and (roughly) the same melody, our breath and prayers intermingling, weaving themselves into a sort of mystical brilliance that lingers for a moment in the air above our heads.
But I live so often in the world of my own thoughts that I have been startled on more than one occasion to look over at a passing car on the freeway to find someone looking back at me. Our eyes meet for an instant, and I realize, “I don’t know you. I probably will never know you. But you woke up today inside your mind, and your life matters to you as desperately as mine matters to me.” And then we will speed off to our various destinations; within minutes I am consumed by whatever is occupying my mind, the center of my own universe.
I have often longed to know a person better. My own children are mysteries to me. I sometimes go into their rooms to watch them sleep, wondering, “Who are you?”
My grandmother passed away early yesterday morning. I had a hard time sleeping the night before, knowing it was coming. She was one of the sweetest, gentlest, most patient, longsuffering humans I ever met. And I loved her, admired her, named my daughter after her. They say that when you get old and sick your façade crumbles and you are left with the real you, the essential, core soul of you. Often people become irritable or discourteous when they lose their filters. But my grandma became more serene, more pleasant. She had strokes for years and years and gently endured it with a quiet smile. As my cousin and I talked at the poolside where our kids splashed and screamed yesterday afternoon, it hit me that I didn’t really know my grandma. I spent a good deal of time at her house and remember her giving me cinnamon flavored chewing gum as a child. I have distinct, colorful memories of her home and of her lemon tree and her backyard. But she was always just a presence, my grandma, kind and generous and soft. I didn’t have the wisdom as a child see her as a person, with real feelings and a life of her own, dreams and adventures and failures and heartbreak. She was Lutheran until she met my grandfather. She thought he’d make a good Lutheran. She made a great Mormon. She was a hostess, a social hub in her southern California ward. She loved the outdoors. And, I don’t really know what else. I am sort of excited to go to her funeral to hear the old stories from those who knew her best, but even so I imagine she’ll sit smiling on the other side of the veil, listening and realizing that no one really knew her.
But one day I will walk through that veil. The veil will be rent, just as it was when Jesus died. And something will give. Mysteries will be revealed. I will know. I will know people. In some ways, I can’t wait. In others, I am glad to delight for the time being in the holy mysteriousness of my wife and children, of my grandfather (whom I would like to get to know better), of all these walking enigmas whom I love but may never really know in life.
(The picture is "Woman With Infant Flying" by Brian Kershisnik)