One of the things you will read if you read about grieving the dead is that it is common for people to forget the physical characteristics of the person who has died. They are able to remember other aspects of the person, but they are unable to recall the voice or the face, for example.
I can’t say what others’ experience is, but I have not found this to be the case.
On Sunday we entered the sanctuary for worship. We found a friend from our Sunday School class and we made our way into her row. As we prepared to enter, I looked down the row of seats and noticed that a family was there with a young girl sitting next to where we would be. I knew right away this would be trouble. I did not want Timberley sitting next to her through the entire service, so I quickly stepped in front and said that I would go in first. I knew it would be trouble because it was obvious that this girl bore a striking resemblance to Anna. She was about nine years old with long, straight, blonde hair.
As I sat down I began transferring my thoughts of Anna to this little girl. I wanted to squeeze her hand. I wanted to ask her her name, wondering if might be Hannah, or Grace (Anna is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Hannah. Hannah means “grace”.) I wondered if she liked to read good books. But I also knew that anything I did like that would frighten the child and land me in trouble with the parents, so I kept my hands and my words to myself.
But then something interesting happened. I realized that this girl was not really nine. She was probably eight years old, maybe. And when I looked down at her hand, I saw her fingers, and they were not Anna’s slender fingers, with the little curve they would have when she relaxed. I noticed then, as I looked at her fingers, that they rested on a bare knee. Anna would never have her knees showing like that, I remembered. This skirt the girl is wearing is far too short to be Anna’s. Anna’s sense of modesty was so strong that when she went to school in Kentucky one semester, she wanted to wear the school skirt everyday to school because it covered her knees. She couldn’t bring herself to wear the shorts. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the clincher. This girl had pierced her ears. As glamorous as Anna was (and she was striking), I could not conceive of Anna reaching an age wear she would pierce her ears. She had this sense of her body that it was not to be violated, either by her exposing it, or by damaging it, or changing it in some way.
And so, the longer I sat there, the more I became aware that despite an initial superficial resemblance, this was not Anna. Anna was unique. As is each person. One of the great glories of God is that he has created billions of people, each one bearing his image. And yet each one unique. Each one with their own smile, with their own turn of the nose, or droop of the ear. Each one with their own way of holding the hand, or sitting in a chair.
I have heard it said that the fact that we remember more the inner character of the person rather than the physical appearance indicates that the real person, the soul of the person, is what is inside. The physical body is simply a shell containing that person. In my experience with Anna, at least, that is not the case. And I don’t think it is biblical, either, since the Bible is clear that it is not merely Anna’s spirit, or inner being, that will live with Christ, but that her physical body will be raised and she will have a new body at the resurrection. Heaven is a physical place where we will see, hear, feel, and have bodies. And Anna is hoping and waiting for that day just as we are here. Maranatha.