Beautiful and Terrible Things Will Happen

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Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
~Frederich Buechner

 

(Two local teens died in separate roll over car accidents yesterday)

Most days I depend on beauty
happening in the most unexpected places
and go looking for it.
But when the terrible crushes, bleeds and fractures us,
beauty hides its face,
what I fear most
is that I’ll not ever see beauty happen again.

We are told, again and again and again
every single day, if only we can hear:
here I am with you in this broken world-
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid

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Prepare for Joy: Sit Beside Me

bench…we all suffer.
For we all prize and love;
and in this present existence of ours,
prizing and loving yield suffering.
Love in our world is suffering love.
Some do not suffer much, though,
for they do not love much.
Suffering is for the loving.
This, said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One:
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.

Over there, you are of no help.
What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is.
I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation.
To comfort me, you have to come close.
Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.
~Nicholas Wolterstorff from Lament for a Son

I wondered if 7:30 AM was too early to call Margy. As a sleep-deprived fourth year medical student, I selfishly needed to hear her voice.   I wanted to know how she was doing; she was not sleeping well either these days. She was wearing a new halo brace—a metal contraption that wrapped around her head like a scaffolding to secure her degenerating cervical spine from collapsing from tumor growths. When she was fitted into the brace, she named the two large screw-like fasteners anchored into her frontal skull her “Frankenstein bolts”.   I had reassured her that with a proper white veil draped around the metal halo, she would be more suited to be Frankenstein’s bride.

Each patient I had seen the previous 24 hours while working in the Emergency Room benefited from the interviewing skills Margy had taught each medical student in our class. She reminded us that each patient had an important story to tell, and no matter how pressured our time, we needed to ask questions that gave permission for that story to be told. As a former nun now married with two teenage children, Margy had become our de facto counselor, and insisted physicians-in-training remember the soul thriving inside the broken body.

“Just let the patient know with certainty, through your eyes, your body language, your words, that you want to hear what they have to say. You can heal so much hurt simply by sitting beside them and caring enough to listen…”

Now with a recent diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, Margy herself had become the broken vessel who needed the glue of a good listener.   She continued to teach, often from her bed at home. I felt compelled to visit her that day, maybe help out by cleaning her house, or take her for a drive as a diversion.

Her phone rang only once after I dialed her number. There was a long pause; I could hear a clearing of her throat. A deep dam of tears welled behind a muffled “Hello?”

“Margy?”

“Yes? Emily? ”

“Margy? What is it? What’s wrong?”

Her voice shattered like glass into fragments, strangling on words that struggled to form.

“It’s Gordy, Emily. He’s gone. He’s lost forever…”

“What? What are you saying?”

“A policeman just left. He told us our boy is dead.”

I sat in stunned silence, listening to her sobs, completely unequipped to know how to respond. None of this made sense. I knew her son was on college spring break, heading to Mexico for a missions trip.

“I’m here, Margy, I’m listening.”

“The doorbell rang about an hour ago. Larry got up to answer it. I heard him talking to someone downstairs, so I decided to try to get up and go see what was going on. There was a policeman sitting with Larry on the couch. I knew it had to be about Gordy.”

She paused and took in a shuddering breath.

“Gordy died last night as they were driving to Mexico. They think he was sleepwalking and walked right out of the back of the moving camper and was hit by another car. “

Silence.  Strangling choking silence.

“They’ll bring him home to me, won’t they?   I need to know I can see him again. I need to tell him how much I love him.”

“They’ll bring him home to you, Margy. He’ll come home.  And we will go see him together. ”

 

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Liquid Bubble Wrap

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As a child I liked to go out far into our hay field and find the tallest patch of grass.  There, like a dog turning circles before a nap,  I’d trample down the tall waving stems that stretched up almost to my eyes, and create a grass nest, just cozy enough for me.  I’d sit or lie down in this green fortress, gazing up at the blue sky, and watch the clouds drift lazily by.  I’d suck on a hollow stem or two, to savor the bitter grass juice.  Scattered around my grassy cage, attached to the broad grass stems, would be innumerable clumps of white foam.  I’d tease out the hidden green spit bugs with their little black eyes from their white frothy bubble encasement.   I hoped to watch them spit, to actually see them in action doing what they do best, but they would leap away.

The grassy nest was a time of retreat from the world by being buried within the world.  I felt protected, surrounded, encompassed and free –at least until I heard my mother calling for me from the house, or a rain shower started, driving me to run for cover, or my dog found me by following my green path.

It has been years since I hid in a grass fort or tried to defoam spit bugs.   I am overdue, I’m sure.

A few years ago, on a spring morning, when the grass was particularly tall, I was driving into work on one of our county’s rural two lane roads, going the speed limit of 50 mph, in a grumbly mood and wishing I was heading somewhere else on a bright and sunny day.  My mind was busy with the anticipation of my workday when I noticed a slight shift to the right by the driver in the car ahead of me.  It inexplicably moved over the fog line and then suddenly I realized why, in a moment of stark clarity.  A huge empty gravel truck and trailer rig was heading north, moving at the speed limit, the driver seemingly oblivious to the fact his huge trailer was starting to whip back and forth.  As he approached me much too quickly, his trailer was whipping back to the center line, approaching me full force at a ninety degree angle from the truck, filling up the entire lane in front of me.  I had no choice but to run my car off the road into a grassy field to avoid being hit head on by the still attached but runaway trailer.  Only by chance were there no deep ditches at that particular point in the road.  My car dove right into tall grass, which enfolded me, like a shroud of green,  shielding me from a tangle of metal and certain death.  It was a near miss, but a miss nonetheless.

I sat still for a moment, gathering my wits and picking up what was left of my frayed nerves from where they been scattered.   All I could see in front and around me was grass, just like my little childhood fortresses.   It was very tempting to stay right there,  buried in the safety of the grass and hidden away, just as if I had been a spit bug wrapped in my foam cocoon, feeling my heart race from the relief of still being alive.

Instead I drove to work to do what I initially planned to do that day, abruptly made aware of the privilege of having a life to live,  a job to go to, and a grassy field ready to swallow me.

It was only later, after I called my husband about what had taken place, that I cried.  Until then, I couldn’t stop smiling.  I had felt encased in liquid bubble wrap, spit-protected by something bigger and stronger, in whose image I had been made.

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A Glowing Soul

with prayers for the family of a ten year old Whidbey Island girl who died this week while out in the field with her beloved horses –of natural causes and no signs of trauma

photo by Brandon Dieleman
photo by Brandon Dieleman

…riding gave her more than a body. It released a gay and hardy soul. She was the happiest thing in the world. And she was happy because she was enlarging her horizon. 
…A rift in the clouds in a gray day threw a shaft of sunlight upon her coffin as her nervous, energetic little body sank to its last sleep. But the soul of her, the glowing, gorgeous, fervent soul of her, surely was flaming in eager joy upon some other dawn.
~William Allen White from his famous eulogy for his daughter “Mary White” in 1921 written four days after she died in a riding accident

This is a week of very public sorrow for so many, though, not unlike any week, there are those who grieve in their own private agony of loss.

Any child dying is too young too soon.  It defies our limited ability to understand or explain.

May we, as did William White over 90 years ago, search for the eloquence in telling the story of that one young life — how her soul lit the world for a brief shining moment and now continues to flame beyond our reach.