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Jane Ahlin, Published March 30 2013

Ahlin: Angle of sun changes to tell us what is coming

The grandson of a friend was born on a recent March day that also was the date scheduled for her father-in-law’s funeral. Listening to her, I found myself traveling back to a Saturday evening almost three decades ago when my grandmother died. Early the next evening, our son was born. She left the world and he entered it on different calendar days but less than 24 hours apart: We celebrated while we mourned.

“Bittersweet” was my mother’s comment about the juxtaposition of her death and his birth. Early in March six years ago, our first grandson was born; within days my mother died. “Dor L’Dor,” my friend who speaks Hebrew said at the time to comfort me – generation to generation.

Dor L’Dor wasn’t a term used in the Methodist church my family attended while I was growing up, nor in the Methodist and Lutheran churches my husband and I tried while we were moving from place to place, nor in the Presbyterian church we settled into when our daughters were grade-schoolers and our son, a toddler.

“Shalom” was the one and only Hebrew word commonly used by mainstream Protestants, although we said it with gusto, as if we owned it. Coming into vogue in the late ’60s and early ’70s about the time churchwomen traded their flowered dresses, hats and gloves for pastel polyester pantsuits while their husbands grew sideburns and wore paisley shirts and double-knit leisure suits to match, “Shalom” suggested new Christianity – Christianity that didn’t have to be uptight. Like the world around us, we could let it all hang out, stay groovy and, during church services, pass the peace. Shalom.

Our use of the word was decidedly New Testament: Peace I leave with you. … Blessed are the peacemakers. Peace in the body of Christ and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Passing the peace wasn’t a political statement – after all, this was peace through grace. Still, echoes of protesters looking to end the Vietnam War and hippies searching for spiritual enlightenment and human harmony resonated within sanctuary walls.

Although peace was a typical theme across the culture back then, the continuity of generations was not. In that era typified by a “generation gap” or fundamental clash of values between young adults and their parents, the term Dor L’Dor would not have held sway. Even those of us not entirely comfortable with our baby boomer youth culture were determined to change the society we’d inherited, ridding it of phoniness and corruption. (We were a new generation who would raise our consciousness, tell it like it is, and never sell out.)

Not noticing life’s rhythm nor seeing that the arc of our experience was only a fractional component of the great circle called life, one of our generational hallmarks was not to trust anybody older than 30. It’s hard not to smile realizing that many of us now have children older than 30. Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, most parents of our generation are 85 or older. Put simply, our perspective on life, particularly the speed with which life goes by, has changed.

In conversation with interviewer Bill Moyers, the late philosopher Joseph Campbell said, “The secret cause of all suffering is mortality itself, which is the prime condition of life. It cannot be denied if life is to be affirmed.”

For Christians, that is the trek of Holy Week, which leads to Easter. Occasionally, it’s occurred to me that Christmas could be celebrated any season, but Easter must herald spring. The way the Earth erupts with the sights, smells and sounds of new life after the dead of winter is such an obvious metaphor for resurrection. Even years like this one when winter’s grip is hard, the angle of the sun has changed to tell us what is coming. We feel it.

My grandmother died on Saturday evening and our son was born the next day, which happened to be Easter Sunday. Dor L’Dor: Life and death, death and life, inescapably linked in an unending life-affirming circle. In fact, that may be the reason passing the peace has remained important well past the era of hippies and leisure suits. Inherent in the greeting is the larger thought, “Peace to you and to your children … for eternity.”


Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.