Taxi rides in the dark (26/4/12)
*note: this post was written in Nairobi, and then posted upon arrival in Atlanta*
I received word this morning that my maternal grandfather passed away a few hours before. He died as he had always wanted to: peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by family. He was the patriarch of my mother’s side of the family; a bulwark of faith and simple leadership.
And here I am, 9 hours later, in a taxi headed to the airport to catch a flight to Atlanta, with a driver who assumes I am a doctor because I live in Kijabe, and whose heavily-accented English produces a dissonant variation on “Andy”.
The taxi driver stops in the rain and mud of the Kijabe streets shortly after picking me up. “You will pray for us now, Dr. Eddy?” He tuns off his car and lights, and it is perfectly still inside the car. Total blackness outside, rain softly falling outside.
I am deeply moved by this simple act of praying for safe travels on this night of fog, rain, and darkness.
A half hour later. Speeding through the night, rain pounding on the car and near total darkness outside on one of Kenya’s busiest highways. I look ahead and realise the driver can only see about 5 meters ahead into the fog.
I am struck by the similarity of this unplanned ride in the dark to my spiritual life in general. Hurtling towards a destination I hope to reach, often not able to see more than 5 meters ahead. Sitting back in my seat with trembling faith, trusting that the driver will get me to the airport safely.
During my journey in the dark, I have a chance for the first time to reflect on Granddad Jack’s death. I’ve spent most of the last nine hours with no chance for contemplation, instead preparing a presentation on solutions for the water crisis at Kijabe. I am really disappointed I can’t attend the meeting of community leaders at which we were to give the presentation in two days. It represents 4 weeks’ worth of hard work, negotiation, and investigations by our 7-person community-appointed Water Committee into how to provide a long term water supply to all of the 7,000 people in the Kijabe area–4 schools, 2 hospitals, 1 Bible College, a printing press, a magazine publisher, and a small town.
I don’t finish the presentation…too much time spent arranging tickets and wondering how to pay for it. I’ll have to finish it on the plane between Nairobi and London, and email it from London when I land.
In the car, I turn my thoughts for the first time to Granddad Jack. I am so very thankful for his life. For the role he and Grandma Elaine played in my returning during my undergraduate days to a living, breathing, active faith. For the Easter weekend trips I took to Coopersburg, Pennsylvania during my time at GWU: the Passover seders and church services they took me to. For the time I drove all night from Washington DC just to see Mardi for 4 hours. She had flown in for 3 days to take her USA medical licensing exams in Philly, and was staying with Granddad and Grandma in Coopersburg. After our 4 hour visit, I drove straight back to Washington to take an exam at 8am.
I am grateful for Granddad’s life, for the opportunity to see my family again, and to reflect on the Christian hope of a physical resurrection and future restoration of all creation. In his epic book, Surprised by Hope, NT Wright notes:
All language about the future, as any economist or politician will tell you, is simply a set of signposts pointing into a fog. We see through a glass darkly, says St. Paul as he peers toward what lies ahead. All our language about future states of the world and of ourselves consists of complex pictures that may or may not correspond very well to the ultimate reality. But that doesn’t mean it’s anybody’s guess or that every opinion is as good as every other one. And—supposing someone came forward out of the fog to meet us? That, of course, is the central though often ignored Christian belief.
As my taxi driver swerves around slow lorries, with the normally-breathtaking overlooks of the Great Rift Valley shrouded in darkness and fog, I remember that “heaven” as described in the Bible is not merely some future destiny, but sort of another dimension in our ordinary life. God’s dimension, if you will. God made heaven and earth, and at the last he will remake them both and bring them together forever. This is the picture we see in Revelations 21 and 22; not disembodied ‘raptured’ souls making their way to a distant heaven, but the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, where they are both united in a perfect embrace.
Granddad died yesterday, and he is with Jesus. In what form, or precisely how, we don’t know…in the Bible, descriptions of the future are only signposts pointing into a fog. But one thing is absolutely clear: one day in the future, there will be a physical resurrection, of which the Easter morning was a foretaste, and all things will be restored.
And I can’t wait to sit down and look through National Geographics with Granddad again, dreaming about travelling.
-Update: 30 hours later. I made it to the airport, after passing roughly 20 accidents on the way in (I stopped counting). I am now safely in Atlanta, having braved a 14 lane highway (I85, downtown) which was nearly my undoing!