By Dyan M. Huey
I stood in the square of the Old City of Jerusalem staring at the “Wailing Wall”. This the last remaining piece of the huge temple from centuries ago. From Jesus’ time and earlier, the setting of great Jewish sacrifice, atonement for sins, and teaching of the Law. I was trying to figure out if this site meant anything to my heart or religious mind. The massive stones impressively notched one atop another did make me think how our bodies, once architecturally, precisely made, can resemble this deteriorated wall after many years of living.
I sat with my 88 year old mother today. She resides in a dementia unit at a local Senior center. I look at her often and mediate, as I did looking at the Western Wall. I muse about the experiential journey that brought her over the years to this place of final days. Of the many years growing into a teen, then into a young woman. How she finished college and began working in the city designing textiles. I know that early on, her artistic talents were developed and tutored, and even her early portraits are quite excellent and noticeably skilled. I remembered that she married my father at 23, and when he returned from the war, they began their family after a few years. I know she lost her first child to miscarriage, but to the surprise of her family OB, went on to have 6 other children, all of whom are living. Over the years, she could claim to be a published writer, a prolific reader and encourager of the written word, a near master bridge player, a commissioned portrait painter, a speaker, a city councilor , president of the Serra Club, a D.A.R. and grandmother to 16 grandchildren. Much of that being done after my father died when he was 55.
When Mom was in her early 80’s, we began to notice the memory thing taking shape. Little forgetfulness, misplaced keys, name drops. But, by 85, we needed to take the car keys away and begin to actively watch over her. At 87, we made the decision to move her closer to me and into a wonderful senior care complex that could care for her dementia and her person. Here we are at 88, and I sit and watch my mother. All kinds of thoughts come to mind. I am thankful that she is joyful in the moment and undisturbed. I marvel that those hands laying listlessly in her lap have left such a legacy.
Those hands that taught us to pray, bathed us, swatted us (we laughed), peeled potatoes, scrubbed floors, cleaned diapers, ironed, washed, picked up, painted, did the dishes, wrote copious letters, typed manuscripts, soothed a fevered brow, spooned broth into sick mouths, home-cut our hair (ugh!), whipped those mashed potatoes, held the cards for Pinocle, ran the sewing machine without patterns, drove the car, and on and on….now lay in her lap without much to do.
Her legs, too, are weak and require a wheelchair and assistance getting up and down. Those legs used to ski, walk us to the school, walk to the market and back, run up and down the stairs a million times a day, shovel the snow, plant the flowers, cook the breakfast, lunch and dinners, and run with us on the beaches of the Jersey shore. The whole body is smaller and more helpless than she has been in 83 years. But, her eyes shine on. She seems to always be communicating with someone in thought and prayer. Sometimes it is clear she sees beyond the obvious and out into the eternal. She just can’t talk about it. Her speech is also gone. Most of the talents God had endowed her with have been removed, one by one. She is nearly, totally dependent on others. She is entirely dependent on God. Her future lays ahead of her in the long shadows of life’s late evening. Really, the end is the beginning, and the doorway awaits. She is more than ready. Her history is written, what is next is better. She waits patiently with humility and love. Honed right down to the greatest virtues.
In the long shadows of the afternoon in Jerusalem, I watched the pilgrims and tourists wander up to the Wall, men on one side, ladies on the other. Most were silent and still before the Wall, touching it gently, perhaps kissing it, or placing a secret prayer within one of the crevices of rock. To me, it was curious. I watched as the sweepers came along behind the pilgrims and swept up the hundreds of paper prayers that fell to the ground. Whisked away into a garbage bin. Fleeting and momentary. All of its history has been carried off by time and tradition to some next generation. Once strong and vital, teaming with life, it is forgotten by many and visited by few. But, its history is proud, and long, and full of import. Yet, it is only a remnant of the original western wall of the Temple of Jerusalem, and all that is left of the grand work of human hands constructed to house the Ark of the Covenant well before the life of Jesus. The Temple was the heart of the Jewish nation of Israel, and the location to which all were summoned annually for pilgrimage and to honor the great feast days. The place they awaited the coming of the Messiah.
When the Romans destroyed the Temple in the year 70 AD, they did a thorough job of it. There was no Temple remaining, and none would ever be built there again. Its days of history were also over, numbered and counted. And, with the birth of Christ, His death and Resurrection, all eyes of faith turned their gaze to the new Temple of Jesus, and ultimately to the temples of us, who now are as tabernacles pointed toward heaven where the fulfillment of all history awaits those who come to know, love and serve God in this world.
Time has erased much of the glory of Jerusalem’s temple. Time, the great gift from a God as Merciful as He is loving, marches on for all. The remaining temple wall speaks silently to the history doomed to repeat itself. The destruction of what was once grand and useful, leaves in its footprint mostly its hope, its memories, and a future “no eye has seen”. Each temple serves its purpose. Flesh or stone, all are temporary. As the way of all earthly things, its aging marks time as always moving forward. Moving without pause toward the most perfect gate of heaven and the eternity offered by God. A heavenly temple awaits, no longer of stone or flesh, no longer dust to dust, but where Love is perfectly enshrined. And, for those who come after us, the temples have their story to tell. Their existence points us toward the eternal promise by our God to His people.