“Bravo, bravissimo, spectacular.”
“My goosebumps have goosebumps and it goes until infinity … .”
“I’m just a simple man but the words here push me up into another place. I do not know if I wish to fight or cry; very emotional.”
All reactions to Andrea Bocelli’s singing Puccini’s grand aria “Nessun Dorma,” which comes at the end of the opera “Turandot.” Meaning “None Shall Sleep,” it grabs hold of your heart and takes it to places previously unknown in heights and depths and simultaneously breaks it into innumerable little pieces. Without dispute, this four and a half minutes brings us some of the most majestic, poignant music ever to come out of the Western Hemisphere.
“None Shall Sleep.” As the Christian church moves into the season of Advent, anticipating the birth of Jesus and Christ’s returning to Earth at the last day, the challenging mantra beats day and night: Sleep not. Sleepers, awake. Keep on the alert. Be on guard. Admonitions to keep watch at all times for Jesus’ appearance; to be ready.
Common wisdom tells us that these weeks leading from Thanksgiving through Christmas and New Year’s Day are for many times of rejoicing and happy gatherings with friends and families. For many of us, though, it, too, is a poignant season replete with heartache, nostalgia and grief.
People die during these weeks, and every year, the anniversary brings even more acute sorrow. People get sick during this time of year, and we struggle to find normalcy during this anything but normal season. People lose their jobs, their homes, relationships at this time of year, and we wonder if anguish will always taint these days.
Last year about this time, as many of you know, our family’s cat Socks died at almost 21 years old. We have grieved, cried, laughed at funny memories of her and faced a hole in our lives that only she could fill. Common wisdom also warns us against comparing grief: losing a cat or another animal member of a family brings certain sorrow; losing a spouse or friend or child brings its own agony. They’re the same in that they hurt. But, of course, they’re different.
And so in our tragedies, we look to God. We ask why this had to happen — why our friend died, why we lost our job, why did our child get sick. We ask God how God could allow it. And, eventually, we ask God to show us where the grace can be found in it all.
Our family has asked ourselves many times during this past year when we might be ready to bring Socks’ successor into our lives. And we’ve known, again and again, we weren’t ready. Or we had a trip planned – no need to get a kitty and then leave her for two weeks.
Until now. My older son went to get a haircut about a week ago, and his stylist asked him if he knew of anybody looking for kittens. He, of course, said “yes,” she gave him the number of a foster mother, he got it to me, I contacted her and now we’re expecting little Dora and Brie to come live with us very soon.
This week, I went to Atlanta to meet Dora – Brie will come along a bit later – and as I made the trip, I experienced unbounded joy at a level I hadn’t felt for a long time. God has graced our suffering. God has brought us two more little ones to continue our journey in all things cat.
Waiting for them is a bit like the waiting we experience in Advent. We know Jesus will come on December 25, and we wait. We know he will come again at the end of the ages, and we wait.
The kitties will come when they’re grown – and fat – enough. And in the meantime, I think about them all the time. They’re here but not here. And we wait.
But with Jesus, we know that there is no here but not here. We know that he was here even before the big bang exploded into life and our universe began. From John’s magnificent prologue:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
And we know that just as God has graced us in our sorrow about losing Socks, God will grace us all as we come through the valley of the shadow of death – in this season and in all seasons. For we know – and we can give thanks that we know it and that it is so – that God never sleeps. Nessun Dorma.
From left: Dora and Brie. They come to us, via their devoted foster mother, from Lifeline Animal Project in Atlanta, where more cats and kittens are looking for loving homes.