The Gate

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Bethany Suckrow -The Gate3

“I had no idea,

that the gate I would go through to finally enter this world

would be the space my brother’s body made…”

//

For days now, that first line of Marie Howe’s poem “The Gate” has been echoing in my mind. Sometimes, my subconscious swaps out the word “brother” for “mother,” and I don’t remember until I utter the line aloud to myself, driving to work or walking my dog, that she said brother, but for me it was my mother.

I had no idea that the gate I would go through to finally enter this world would be the space my mother’s body made.

This gives it a whole new meaning, of course. We all enter the world through our mothers. But I was reborn. The first birth was the life she gave me. The second was her death.

//

I turn 30 later this fall. The number slipped off my tongue a few nights ago when we were chatting with our neighbors and one of them asked how old I was. “Thirty,” I said, as if it had always been there, waiting for me. My husband raised his eyebrows at me with a smile.

Is it weird that I’ve never thought about being this old? Sure, I’ve thought about all the things I wanted my adult life to look like, things that a 30-something might have and be: a career, marriage, motherhood. But I have never thought with any certainty about what it would be like to live in a 30-something body, with 30-year-old hands, and 30-year-old hair, and 30-year-old skin, and 30-year-old hips. Why is that?

//

I ponder this question while I walk my dog a few nights later. It is June in Tennessee and the air is heavy with the summer heat and humidity. My sneakers pound the pavement as I walk quickly, trying to keep pace with Samson, who is eager to get home to his water dish and air conditioning. When we arrive I collapse on the couch, feeling every sweaty cell of my almost-30 body.

I left the television on while we were gone. I watch as muted news anchors pontificate about the healthcare bill currently being drafted in the Senate, behind closed doors by a handful of men. Every time I think about what this bill could mean, I relive vivid memories of staying with my mother in the hospital during the last months of her life and sorting through her unopened medical bills. I think about all the people sitting in oncology wings right this minute, watching their loved ones’ bodies slowly disappear from view.

Here’s the ugly, messy truth: I haven’t thought about what it would feel like to inhabit a 30-something body because I was never sure that mine would be healthy. My friend Tamara, a cancer survivor herself, once wrote that living with the potential for a hereditary diagnosis is like living in the waiting room between the healthy and the sick for your entire life. You’re never totally out of the woods. Health, old age, a long and happy life—these things have never felt inevitable to me.

For so many people, a long and healthy life has never felt inevitable.

The other strange thing that I am only just now starting to unpack in my late 20’s, is my theology around heaven and the afterlife. I was raised in a faith tradition that believed that the Rapture could happen in the near future. All of the adults in my life—my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, the elders at my church, many of my teachers at the Christian school I attended, my professors in college—all articulated at one point or another that “we could be living in the End Times.” They believed (believe?) that Jesus could come back at any minute, and all of the Christians will be spirited away to heaven, away from here, away from now, with all of its pain and suffering.

I’m not sure when I stopped believing this. I’m not saying I have the answers to what will happen to us instead.

But I am asking, at least of myself, what it means when escapism becomes a core tenet of our theology?

How does this influence our choices—how we live, how we treat people, how we inhabit our planet—if we believe that it’s all disposable and we’ll get to leave it behind?

The gate I went through to finally enter this world was the space my mother’s body made.

When I am an old woman, if I am ever an old woman, I want my hair to be grey and my skin to be weathered and my hands to be rough because I lived in the present as much as possible.

I don’t want to escape any of it. I don’t want to ignore my own body, or the bodies of the people around me. I don’t want to treat humans or my planet like they’re disposable. And I don’t want to forget what it was like to stand at the gate, seeing the world, really seeing it, as if for the first time.

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Bethany Suckrow
I’m a writer and blogger at at bethanysuckrow.com, where I shares both prose and poetry on faith, grace, grief and hope. I am currently working on my first book, a memoir about losing my mother to cancer. My musician-husband, Matt, and I live in transition as we move our life from the Chicago suburbs to Nashville.
Bethany Suckrow
Bethany Suckrow

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Bethany Suckrow
  • I love the questions you are asking, Bethany. So thought-provoking.

  • Lynn Morrissey

    Bethany, you are such an excellent author and deep thinker. And frankly, it staggers me that you are all of this at just thirty. You are so extremely gifted, and I wonder if I had that maturity at your age? I don’t think so. Having survived more than twice your years now, thirty seems so young to me. (I’m hardly poking fun; it’s just *my* reality). But as I recall approaching your age, it did feel far older to me at that time. My own dear mother tells me that it was a hard year for her, because she had so loved her childhood and youth, and it seemed a real turning point away from that. My mother is such a compassionate person and is so deeply troubled by all the vitriol and chaos that is transpiring in our country (and I agree w/ her). And from all I can tell about what you write and in how thoughtful and compassionate you have ended up being in your near-thirtieth year, your mother must have been this way—and she must have raised you to be this way. I sense that she entered many gates into people’s hearts, many gates through which she administered compassion and generosity. I sense that she herself was a gateway—yes, in being a conduit to your birth—but also a gate through which people could enter freely to been seen and heard by her. I wish I could have known her. It is really a breathtaking thought—to be a gate, and not a barred door. Jesus said that He was the gate and that all who enter by Him will be saved. Jesus was a kind, good, and gentle shepherd. Would that we would all be kind and gentle so that others might be drawn through the gate to Him. Would that we would emulate Him in all His ways. Turning a corner, I have many friends who believe in the Rapture, and at least those I know are not seeking escape, but rather sensing the urgency of time ending and wanting others who do not know the Lord to know Him and to be raptured with them. But I know what you are saying and have heard some Christians who relish escaping the terrors that will befall everyone else (and who hardly seem concerned about those who will perish). That would surely be a horrific, sinful notion. But all that said, I believe that the Rapture is not an accurate teaching in Scripture. It is thoroughly espoused by American Evangelicals (of whom I am one), in particular. But it’s a teaching that was popularlized in the mid 1800s by Bible teacher John Nelson Darby, of English-Irish descent. This teaching did not exist in the Church until that time, but it was widely popularized in American in the early 20th century via the Scofield Study Bible. Admittedly, I’m no theologian, and I don’t know a lot, but when I learned that fact, it arrested me. The more I read about this viewpoint (expressed by Dispensationalism), the more I feel it is false. I say this to you simply to encourage you to explore eschatology from other viewpoints, and you might be interested and surprised to learn that this escapism that you do not support isn’t true to begin with. No, this life is not the only one we will know, but you are so right in shaping your life in the form of a gate, where you welcome and care for others. What we do here is not the end, and will affect eternity. I always appreciate hearing from you, Bethany, and as I have said numerous times: Your mother would be so very proud of you!
    Love
    Lynn

    • Lynn, your comment has added a whole new dimension to my post and I love that so much–the concept of being a gate for others, a welcoming entryway into seeing the world differently. And I had forgotten that scripture where Jesus refers to himself as the gate–thank you for reminding me of it. As always, I appreciate your thoughtfulness in reading and responding. <3

      • Lynn Morrissey

        You are kind and generous, and I so appreciate you, dear one!

      • Lynn Morrissey

        And thank you for putting up w/ such a long response. Goodness! It is truly a compliment to you, that you make me think! Somebody needs to! 🙂

  • I’m 35 and learning to embrace this body. Still young to lift my kids and run and play but looking older and a bit wiser. I’m learning that, though I say I affirm it for my girls, I’m really affirming and loving it for me. This body is mine and I’m thankful for where it’s taken me. Thank you for helping me pause and really give thanks.

  • I’ve read and re-read you’re essay. I happen to be 30, so your words resonate for lots of reasons, but I love that bit at the end, “I don’t want to escape any of it. I don’t want to ignore my own body, or the bodies of the people around me. I don’t want to treat humans or my planet like they’re disposable.” Gosh, such wonderful, true words. May I have the courage to live them.

  • pastordt

    So well said, Bethany. Walk steadily to who you are becoming. I think you’re gonna love what you discover.

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