Seeing into the future is one thing, but being fixated on death is quite another story. Growing up, all the tales of the second sight I ever heard – and there were many – seemed to be about just one thing: dying.
My father used to tell of a man from his village, known as Gidseoc (pronounced to rhyme, funnily enough, with Hitchcock). This fellow had no gift, as far as I know, but a pretty single-minded obsession with the other world. Gidseoc couldn’t go his own length without seeing mysterious lights, or hearing unearthly singing in a lonely spot. These uncanny happenings he shared liberally with his neighbours. My father, then just a wee boy, would listen, frozen with terror as the story reached its eerie denouement, when he would inevitably be sent out into the dark for more peats. Alone.
Being alone and frightened is not a nice thing. It doesn’t matter what you are afraid of. We all need to feel that someone else is there, going through it with us. And there are certain kinds of fear which, once you’ve experienced them, give you such empathy with other people in their loneliness and terror.
I used to be afraid of losing my husband. Whenever I would read a newspaper article about someone who had been widowed, I would cry like a leaky hose. Once, I tried to read, ‘In the Springtime of the Year’, about a young widow’s grief. Tears streamed down my face every night, until I eventually stopped reading halfway through the book. I knew that I could not cope with losing him. Or, rather, I feared that I could not.
There is, after all, only one fear anyway. We are afraid of being afraid. I thought that hearing the word, ‘cancer’ would destroy me; it didn’t. I thought that hearing the word, ‘terminal’ would destroy me; it didn’t. And I thought when I asked, ‘how long?’, that the answer – ‘days, but not days and days’ – would crush me into dust. It didn’t.
Nonetheless, the first quarter of the year will always be a little bit cianail for me. These were the three months of Donnie’s final illness. Yesterday was the second anniversary of that day when a very kind nurse handed me his wedding ring to keep forever.
What does one do on such anniversaries? I’m not a great visitor of cemeteries. Indeed, I’ve been to Donnie’s grave precisely once and only then to check that the Gaelic inscription on the headstone was correct. Oh, and that they’d left enough space for, ‘Agus Catriona’ (that’s some black, island humour for you right there). Well, yesterday I went to work as usual, bored some students about Icelandic nationalism and the evil eye (different classes), walked the dog and arranged some flowers. Then, I sat down and listened to a sermon, conducted in the language of Eden, on Psalm 23. It’s been a Psalm 23 kind of week. These words from the sermon reminded me of the meaning in my grief:
‘S e uan a th’ anns a’ bhuachaille. An t-uan seo a chaidh a mharbhadh ‘s a tha beo gu saoghal nan saoghal. Bidh e gan treorachadh gu beo-thobraichean uisge agus tiormachaidh Dia gach deoir bho an suilean. Cha bhi madadh-allaidh tuilleadh ann, cha bhi deoirean tuilleadh ann, cha bhi craidh no gort, no buaireadh, no Satan, no naimhdeas, no caoidh, no ionndrainn. Cha bhi cail de na nithean sin ann.
Bidh am Buachaille, an t-Uan fhein agus a’ chaoraich beannaichte, bidh iad fad na bith-bhuantachd comhla ri cheile aig na beo-thobraichean uisge sin.
And in English, for those of you in the cheap seats:
The Shepherd is the Lamb. This Lamb who was slain but who lives forever. He will lead them to wells of living water and God will dry the tears from their eyes.
There will be no wolf there, no more tears, nor pain, nor hurt, nor strife, nor Satan, nor enmity, nor mourning, nor longing. None of those things. The Shepherd, the Lamb Himself will abide by those wells of living water, together with His blessed flock, forever.
It was believed by some that the seer could share his vision with another if they stood on his foot, or placed a hand upon his shoulder.
I wish that I could do that with the Shepherd. If only I could say, place your foot on mine and see what I see. Then you’ll never be afraid of being afraid. This Lamb keeps the wolf at bay. You can lie down in peace because He is with you: if I’m nothing else, I think I’m proof of that. God doesn’t always let the cup pass from us. The painful things of life will still occur, and the things which make us afraid. However, when the nameless fear takes shape in your life, He will go through it all with you. After all, He went through it all for you.