“WILL I SEE YOU THROUGH MY TEARS?” (Jn 4:43-54): 03 March 2008 (Monday)
In his epic The Aeneid, Vergil narrates the story of Aeneas, who escapes the sack of Troy with his son Ascanius by his side and his father Anchises on his shoulder. Tricked by the Greeks to accept the gift of a large wooden horse, the Trojans are caught off-guard by the attack of the Greek soldiers hiding inside the horse. Aeneas wakes up in the middle of the night to see the slaughter of his people. He tries his best to fight the Greeks, but to no avail. Venus appears to him ordering him to leave Troy as soon as possible for his own safety and for a greater destiny, which turns out to be the founding of Rome.
The Trojan War and the eventual fall of his beloved Troy have traumatized Aeneas and his comrades. Years later, when shown a painting of the sack of Troy, he utters what many today consider the finest line in Latin poetry–a line that literary critic Tyrell has described as “one with a sense of wondrous beauty and a pathetic dignity.”
Beholding the painting of the destruction of his beloved city, Aeneas says, “These are the tears of things, and our mortality cuts to the heart.” (Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.)
‘The tears of things’…
We know what the poet means, don’t we? The official in today’s gospel story could probably taste those very tears as he rushed to Jesus to plead for his son to be healed from a terrible illness.
As we can, for we are no stranger to the ‘tears of things’.
In 1999 my Singaporean friend Tim died fighting a fatal disease called adenocarcinoma. I found out only some weeks later when his wife Joan wrote us.
The letter said: “Tim was called home to the Lord on 16 June 1999 at 4:49 in the morning…. At 2 a.m. on 16 June (Wed), a nurse came out and told us that Tim’s blood pressure was falling and to get the family down to the hospital as he might not last till dawn. When the children all came, they laid hands on him. [The ICU doctors] said that he was fighting very hard. I did my crying outside, then went in. I love him for fighting so hard to remain with us, I know he is very tired and …I cannot hold him back. He will be able to pray for us in the place where he is going.”
She ends her letter by saying, “I miss him dearly, but I am hopeful.”
The words in Joan’s letter were soaked with the ‘tears of things’, and as I read them, her words blurred and swam in mine.
Lately I’ve been receiving news of how people I know–even the fittest and most unsuspecting–are suddenly stricken with all sorts of unexpected illness. A priest who was ordained with me discovers that his liver is not functioning and needs a transplant. A high school student–healthy by all appearances–is diagnosed with cancer and has to undergo aggressive chemotherapy. A mother grappling with her mortality worries about her infant daughter.
This is how it is to live in the ‘valley of tears’. Things fall apart; we break down. Each day we live, we are constantly reminded of how fragile our every breath is. We cringe and brace ourselves for God-knows-what, and we can’t help but dread that moment when as the poet puts it, “our mortality will cut to the heart.”
My question to the Lord today is: “When that day comes, will I see you through my tears?” I pray I will, Lord. Please make sure I will. When I find myself in pain, the pieces of my broken heart scattered around me, help me to see you, to sense your presence and your nearness. That’s all, Lord. I will need it if I have to walk through the ruins of my life. For nothing can be more frightening than to find myself in such moments alone, far from you and away from you.
Lord, you yourself are no stranger to the tears of our things. You know what it’s like to be abandoned. You know what it’s like to have your heart broken, and to walk amidst the ruins of your life. You’ve felt fear and despair. You’ve known abandonment and betrayal. When the time comes, Lord, help me recognize you through ‘the tears of things’, and like Aeneas delivering his father Anchises out of burning Troy, carry this child on your shoulder and bring me out of sure death and destruction.
(image: Aeneas escaping Troy, from jbentham.com)
Here’s a Quick Question for you: “Do you remember a time in your life when you sensed what Vergil calls the ‘tears of things’? What was that like? Looking back at that experience, do you recognize the Lord present during that event?” Share a thought, a feeling, or a question.