we'll meet again
A friend shared with me some poignant moments from her childhood experience of evacuation during the war:
“Although I was evacuated from Southampton in 1939 at the young age of seven, this first phase was not unhappy, since I was with my sister in a mixed-age billet of twelve children, and two helpers - one of whom was our mother. It was the start of a new life; real friends of my own age to play with, acres of safe, exciting grounds to explore and the security of a family group with a loving mother.
But this was to change dramatically when my mother had to return suddenly to Southampton. My sister and I then moved to the home of a woman compelled by regulations to accept evacuees. Her absent, soldier husband had left behind an embittered woman, in charge of us and her own spoilt young son. Utterly lonely, isolated and scared to speak, my despair was intensified by another change of school - one where evacuees were resented.
Oh, the amazement and absolute joy when some month's later my mother unexpectedly arrived, to take me back home. I remember her comfortable presence, the train journey, the No.2 Southampton bus, and the reassuring shiny door-knocker on our own front door. The familiar furniture, scents of home and even the apple trees joined in welcoming me back; the intervening sad time simply evaporated away in the joyful reunion.”
Children are acutely sensitive to separations. Even for those who’ve never had a traumatic experience such as evacuation, some still remember years later the feeling of being left at school for the first time.
Apparently, aged four, I would cling to the playground railings and peer through miserably as my mother left. At five years old, my own daughter routinely burst into anguished sobs every morning when I waved goodbye to her at the school door. Her teacher assured me that once the moment of parting was over, she quickly settled. Less dramatic than his older sister, my three year old would suck his thumb vigorously when left at playgroup, and watch me miserably as I walked away. It may be a necessary part of growing up, but it’s still painful!
When we went to work abroad in 1990, I felt sure it would only be for a short while – but in fact we were away for ten years. By then our two children considered Canada their home. So our decision to return to England without them wasn’t easy, though we felt it was right. Now thousands of miles away from our children, the prospect of months of separation is eased by having the next visit planned into the calendar. Cheap phone calls, e-mails and charter flights mean my challenge is nothing compared to that endured by families separated in earlier generations.
When widower John McFarland emigrated to the New World in 1782 with his four children, they knew, like thousands of others, that they would never see their families and friends again. Their new home in Ontario became a hospital during the War of 1812 between British and American forces; today it’s a small museum and tea garden in picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake. Generations later, I know many Canadians who also left their homelands to make a fresh start; some lost everything in the European wars, others have come more recently as economic migrants from Asia. The decision to emigrate, for whatever reason, is costly. Farewells are painful, and opportunities for reunions not always practical or possible.
I imagine that everyone, no matter their age, has experienced the wrench of separation, and the elation of reunion. For some who must travel a lot –especially those in the armed forces – the partings and reunions become an established routine; yet the pain is all the greater where there is the real possibility of danger and death. Separations seem to be part of the tapestry of life. We can never be close by to all those we love. Life’s adventures often take friends and relatives along unexpected courses and to different places. And inevitably, the separation of bereavements hangs over us all.
Imagine you’ve just received a letter from someone you haven’t seen for years; a friend you go back a long way with; you spent so much time together. In difficult times they were there for you, and you for them. Joys and sorrows were shared. It was a trusting friendship, but circumstances took you separate ways and the years slipped by.
But now, there’s an opportunity to meet up. Imagine the feelings. There’s apprehension. Your friend will certainly have changed, but then so have you. Will you be able to pick up where you left off or will there be an awkwardness, a shyness that will need time to wear off. The excitement rises as you think about your time together, the things you want to say.
As the time draws closer, nothing else seems worth thinking about. You’re planning conversations, imagining what you’ll do together – the things you both enjoyed before, and perhaps some new ventures. You’ll share meals, laughter; talk and walk together… it’s hardly possible to wait patiently!
what the bible says…
The Bible is full of stories about real people living real lives; friendship and love, separations and sadness, reunions and joy, birth and bereavement. We read of close friends, like David and Jonathan, and the pain of separation when Jonathan’s father Saul became jealous [1 Samuel 20]. David was distraught at Jonathan’s death, and lamented for him in his grief [2 Samuel 1]. Yet beyond the earthly separation of bereavement, David had faith that there would one day be a reuniting. As King, David mourned another loss –the death of a newborn son– and we glimpse his hope through the grief. For as he humbled himself before God, he declared in faith concerning his son, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” [2 Samuel 12:23].
Centuries later, Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica, that he wanted them to ‘know the truth about those who have died; so you may not grieve in the way that those who have no hope grieve’ [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. Nowhere are we told not to grieve; but we needn’t do so as if we are without hope. As believers we have hope. There will be reunion. Departed loved ones are re-united –never to be separated again.
Jesus understood separations. He left his Father to come to earth. He lost an earthly father relatively young – we don’t know exactly how old he was. He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. He encouraged his friends before his trial and crucifixion, that although there would be separation, it would only be for a while. They couldn’t possibly understand. With hindsight we see the full picture, the climax of the story, that Jesus would defeat death itself –the last enemy– and come back to life. Even after that there was still a separation for his followers as Jesus returned to heaven, but this time he promised them another comforter, his Holy Spirit. Though he is no longer with us in human form, we can experience his presence in a personal way. “I am with you always,” he said, “To the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20].
As a father welcomes a long lost son, as someone greets an old and dear friend, as a lover runs into the arms of their beloved… so a Christian looks forward to being together at last with God; the greatest reunion of all. ‘...and so we shall be with the Lord forever. So then, encourage one another with these words’ [1 Thessalonians 4:17,18].
God of all time and eternity, help me to recognise through the changing seasons of my life, your wonderful gift of ‘now’ and your sovereign timing over all my days. Remind me that I am made for eternity, not just for this fleeting space of time on earth; that heaven is my true destination, and that I travel this journey with you, as you guide me home. Amen