Just Kiss Her Better: Toddler Wisdom on Death & Love
Episode 29 – April 14, 2019
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Referenced Articles & Websites
A Sanctified Art
“Once There Was a Dead Raccoon” by Isaiah
Stan Rogers – “Down the Road”
Kate Rusby – “Who Will Sing Me Lullabies”
Reading No. 1
Jesus Enters Jerusalem from The Action Bible
Read by Isaiah in East Gwillimbury, Ontario.
Reading No. 2
Luke 23:13-49 from the Common English Bible
Jesus’ Sentencing and Execution
Four years ago, when Isaiah was three and Simon was one, it was the first really nice spring day of the year in Toronto. It was time to celebrate. So, I piled them into our double stroller and we set out for a long walk towards the lake in search of ice cream. These kinds of excursions are one of the things we miss the most from our neighbourhood in Toronto. Ice cream by the beach…
A few blocks from our house, we started to come across something large, fuzzy, and very, very still. As we got closer, I realized it was a raccoon—and it was very dead.
I am always sad when I see dead animals on the side of the road and had I been walking by myself, I would have probably done something. Called the City to have them come and remove it. Find something to move the poor thing to a place with less foot traffic. But I wasn’t alone, and so my first instinct was to turn around, or to cross the road, so Isaiah and Simon didn’t have to see the carnage.
But before I could do that, I head Isaiah’s sweet little voice speak up, “Look Mama! That raccoon is sleeping on the sidewalk! Shhh! Don’t wake her up!”
Now, it was fairly obvious that this raccoon had met…a violent end. And I could have left it. I could have just said, “Yup. Funny that!” and went on with our day. But I thought about our old man cat, who probably only had a few years left with us. I thought of my father who had just had his prostate removed, and we were still waiting to hear if the cancer had spread or not. And I thought perhaps having a conversation about a dead raccoon would be the gentlest entry into a conversation about loss I could possibly hope to have. Better a dead raccoon than our beloved family pet, or grandparent.
And so, I took a deep breath:
“Isaiah, honey. That raccoon is not sleeping. That raccoon is dead.”
Isaiah was quiet for a moment pondering this. He had watched movies before where characters died. I mean, every single Disney movie seems to feature an orphan or two. But for Isaiah, the solution to all of this was really quite simple:
“Kiss him better.”
“Just kiss him better, Mama. Like you do with me.”
And staring at that bleeding, broken raccoon, my heart cracked right then and there. Because of course, no matter how powerful and how healing my kisses are, I cannot fix a dead raccoon.
“Honey, that raccoon is dead. And dead is forever.” And then we went over what happens when people and animals die; their heart stops beating, their lungs stop breathing, and their body stops moving. Isaiah was concerned. Together we felt his heart, his lungs and his body. He did a little dance. We assured ourselves that he was, indeed, alive. And then we did the same with me. I was a psychotherapy student at the time. This was all developmentally appropriate stuff, but it wasn’t lost on me how a celebration of ice cream on the beach had suddenly shifted to something far deeper…
And he still didn’t understand why I wouldn’t kiss the raccoon. Why I wouldn’t at least try…
I finally had to tell him that Mama’s kisses can’t fix everything. They can’t fix dead.
And that I think was the hardest part of the whole scene. Understanding that dead is forever is one thing. Suddenly being confronted that there are just some things Mama can’t fix on her own—that is where the heartbreak lived.
So here we are. We started with a celebration. We started with a parade and singing and palms and joy. Jesus enters Jerusalem like a rock star. And he’s entering Jerusalem at the same time Pilate is returning to the city to his own parade. But for Pilate, it is a demonstration of might. Of Imperial strength. Jesus enters with the hopes and dreams of his people paving the path before him.
A lot of things happened over the next few days and we’ll hear more about them in a special episode we’ll be putting out this Friday.
Judas betrays his friend.
The religious elite—some of whom have actually been trying to protect Jesus—become nervous.
Jesus, and the crowds who surround him have become too dangerous.
And so, in keeping with the circumstances, context and time, the end result—and where we find ourselves now—is torture and execution at the hands of the Roman state. A bleeding and broken man, hanging from a cross. The cross. It is the crux of our story and Christians have spent more than 2000 years trying to work out the meaning of it all.
Isaiah spent months—literally MONTHS—working out his feelings about this dead raccoon experience. One day, we went to the library and he asked if he could take home a book about raccoons. We couldn’t find any, so we asked the library worker for help. When she found a book, Isaiah looked at it and asked, “is this a book about alive raccoons?” and when the library worker looked puzzled went on, “Because I really need a book about dead raccoons.” So deep and honest was his three-year-old desire to make sense of what seemed completely outside his conceptual framework. How is it possible that my Mama, who has always made everything better with a hug, or a kiss, or a tickle, cannot fix this raccoon?
How is it possible that a God whose Chosen People are living under imperial rule, can send their Anointed One not to vanquish their oppressors, but to a brutal and shameful death?
This is the sixth Sunday in a row I had been with the fine people of York Pines United Church, either in person, or in prepared services while I attended classes in Winnipeg. I have really appreciated the space to sink into the experience of leading worship week after week within the same community. I also knew there will be no service in that sanctuary between this past Sunday and the next, so I wanted to make this reflection was a good one. A really good one. This is, as was mentioned, the crux of the whole story and I thought this congregation deserved a really excellent sermon about the crucifixion to take them through this Holiest of Weeks.
So, I started to go through the books in my house and took a count of the different interpretations of what this scandalous and violent death means. There are just too many interpretations and understandings to name here. Just so many books. Books written by authors who believe that the world, and everybody in it, was so bad, that God needed somebody to die to pay for it all. Books by authors who believe that we had here a man, with so much love and truth to impart, that those in power felt threatened—and so they killed him. With two soon-to-be-ministers sharing one house and a few retiring clergy friends, we have rather a lot of books. More books than we have shelf space for. So many authors writing so many books, trying to make sense of the death of this one man.
But then I found this book:
It starts out, “Once upon a time, there was a dead raccoon…”
And I was reminded of that conversation four years ago, and how much Isaiah had to work through, and how part of working it out for him was writing about it. He wrote an entire series of stories trying to make sense of the death of this one raccoon. Before I sang him a lullaby at night, together we would make up stories about raccoons. Sometimes they were alive. Sometimes they weren’t.
Because the whole thing moved him. The raccoon was killed. She didn’t do anything wrong. But the world killed her anyway. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. It must have really hurt. And Mama couldn’t make it better. So, he wrote about it, to make sense of it. The Gospel According to Isaiah.
Now, I’m willing to wager that most you listening know this is not where our story ends. And I promise I will not title next week’s episode “ROADKILL AND THE RESURRECTION”.
But it is where we leave for this week. Jesus doesn’t do anything wrong, and the world kills him anyway. It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. It must have really hurt. And his Mama, holy or otherwise, can’t make it better. Not in the way his friends want or expect.