"Since childhood I have had trouble imagining heaven, for, I'll say it, the descriptions have always disappointed...All my life, I have secretly searched for a credible glimpse of eternal bliss, in fern-floored groves, in echoing cathedrals, and in the iridescent surface of a perfect stock. Had anyone told me I would have found it upon a pirate ship, I would have struck them down with a ladle. To these imagined persons, I offer an apology."
I never expected to find such lovely prose in a novel about a cook captured by a pirate and forced to prepare for her a series of gourmet meals. As a writer, I'm a bit jealous. What a clever concept! The play of the raw primitive life of a pirate against the nuanced blending of the flavors of sea and spice. One expects a harsh swashbuckling woman as the pirate and an angry unyielding bumbler as the captured cook. But in this lovely story, Eli Brown gives us characters rich with depth and the search for love and beauty.
For I have been learning that heaven is rarely where I think I am going to find it. I am finding heaven in the upturned eyes of a trusting one-year-old, the warm hug of an understanding friend, the words that flow from my hand to the paper, or the keyboard. Because it's getting more real to me that heaven is not a place, but a state of being. I think that's what Jesus meant when he tried to get us to see that the Kingdom of God is within us.
I have, since Roy died, been reflecting a great deal on the many many moments of love between us that I took for granted. I often climbed into bed at night, so exhausted, that I left the light on over the sink where I had been brushing my teeth. He'd look up from his book and say "wanna get that light?" Every time. Like it was the first time it happened, and he was just casually suggesting I turn it off. If the roles were reversed I probably would have been saying, 'geez Roy, every night! Can't you remember to turn the light off before you get into bed?" But that wasn't Roy's way. 'Wanna get that light?' Those little gestures speak love.
I suppose that is a natural part of grieving. I see more clearly now how being in a relationship with someone in our human bodies with all the demands of surviving and thriving can cloud over even the deepest love. It gets murky. Sometimes it gets muddy. Sometimes it's downright quicksand. I let that happen. I'm not beating myself up. I suppose we all let that happen in many ways, and that I continue to let that happen in other relationships.
But when that earthy human nature of the relationship is stripped away, I feel like I am left not with the arguments and childish behavior, but with the millions of sweet and tender moments of love that passed between us in 35 years. And the millions that I probably missed. For heaven was not where I expected it to be. I get it when people say 'if I could just have one more day.' The desire to just get one more moment of that pure connection. 'I won't miss it this time. Really I promise.' But of course I would. It's just being human.
The cook in Brown's novel expressed this for me so eloquently as he nursed his captor back from a near deadly battle on the sea.
"The bowl of rabbit broth I carried to Mabbot's cabin was a forgiveness and a plea for forgiveness, an acknowledgement that this blood is shared universally. With this meal I surrendered to the mystery of my days and vowed never to look askance at love of any kind, nor to defy it. For the world is a far more expansive and mystifying place than can be said."
And that is a gift I have been given in Roy's death. To simply desire to be more aware of love of any kind, and to never look askance when it is offered. The gentle cook had lost his wife to childbirth shortly before he was captured. He and his captor shared an unexpected experience of grief for those they loved and could not save. And he says of his wife:
"As for Elizabeth, if she knows anything, she knows that she lives in the purest parts of my heart...
I can't imagine a better way to express this truth. That Roy now lives in the purest parts of my heart. That our love is changed and refined in ways that I could never have imagined. This is heaven. How could it not be?