Category: death

Afflictions Eclipsed by Glory

Most of you (assuming there are enough people who read this blog to split them into a majority and minority) know that I have two little boys who will be starting preschool over the next couple years. I don’t want to talk about what happened Friday. I don’t want to think about it.  I don’t even want to know that it happened, so I sure as heck don’t want to write a blog post about it.
Right now there’s nothing I want more than to curl up with one of the comic books my friend lent me and get lost in a nice, brightly-colored alien war where little kids don’t get shot to death for no reason.
In the last post on this blog I told you writers can’t ignore or hide from the disturbing, painful, sickening things that happen in our world. The coward in me wishes I hadn’t told you that because here are the facts: Babies are dead. Parents are dead. People across the country are sick, hurt, angry, and sad. We don’t know what to do with this.
Friday night, my sister-in-law said, “I told [my son] that the world isn’t going to end this month, but now I don’t know. I don’t see why God wouldn’t just swoop down and take us all out.” A lot of my friends and family have been saying how much they wish the Mayans had been right about the date of the apocalypse. I’ve been saying it, too. Can you imagine what a relief it would be to be done with this whole mess? Unfortunately, the end of the world isn’t coming on Mayan Apocalypse Day.
“[God] should kill us all with an [assault rifle],” my sister-in-law said. “That would be appropriate, don’t you think?” 
What my sister-in-law understands that some people don’t is that we’re all humans. If one of us massacres a hundred others, we all share the blame. I know it goes against the grain to admit that. Whenever some great injustice or tragedy happens, our first instinct is to separate ourselves from the perpetrator. To say, “This gunman was mentally ill. That dictator was power-hungry and sadistic. That group was part of a sect that practices a radical form of our religion mutated to fit their own beliefs. He/she/they are not like me.”
The truth is that gunman, that dictator, and that group are humans just like we are. We have the capacity in our hearts to as much harm as they did. You can swear you don’t or split this into a hundred different semantic arguments, but evil is in you the same as it is in me. It may come out in different forms, but none of it is helping make this world a better place.
The good news is there’s something we can do. In the previous post on this blog, I told you that I didn’t know how to respond to tragedy or even the pain of living every day. You have to feel it, you have to face it, and you can’t hide from it if you want to be a writer. But now I understand that you can have peace in spite of it.
One of my favorite songs says, “If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.” To me, that’s the real relief.

That Darn Moth Again

My friend’s husband was shot to death by police last week in a “misunderstanding” that seems more and more senseless as more of the truth comes to light. The next day a friend from high school hung himself.

Before I found out, I was working on a post about how a Christian should respond to the engagements and marriages of their LGBTQ friends. Maybe I’ll finish writing that sometime, but it seems so small now. Even things like who won the election seem small. Does it really matter who runs the free world when stuff like this can still happen?

It’s true that tragedy has always existed, but we’ve never lived in a world where it’s so easy to ignore. “No one wants to take the time to feel anymore. #fact” someone said on Twitter. They were right. Millions of people on the other side of the globe could be wiped out today, and if we don’t want to hear about it, we can change the channel, webpage, or podcast. If it’s our neighbor, relative, or friend who’s been hurt or killed, we can drown the pain out with music, books, screens, drugs, sex, or any combination. As long as there’s a distraction, we don’t have to feel the pain.

The thing most people don’t want to understand is that pain doesn’t just come with death or tragedy. Every day hurts if you face it head-on. That’s why when I run out of excuses and dead friends and personal tragedies, I’m still drinking. I don’t want to think about how hard it is to live every single day.

This morning I caught myself wishing I could go back to Oak’s last birthday party. It was fun, my whole family was there, and the only responsibility I had was to make sure everybody got a piece of cake. Nothing bad ever happens on those kind of nights.

Get ready. This is where I do that thing I hate of making distinctions between the different kinds of people who write, specifically between someone who writes books and a writer.

Someone who writes books lives in those memories where everything was fine and nothing hurt. Their stories are distractions from real life and they keep you from having to think about why it hurt so much in the first place. I usually think about this in relation to romances, but it holds true for legal thrillers, horror, pretty much any genre. A romance novelist can have six or eight series of books going at the same time. By the end of their career, they can have written a hundred or two hundred or a thousand books.

Writers…I don’t think we can do that. This is where the requisite Holy the Firm reference comes in. A writer’s responsibility is to be the moth, to fly into the candle, and to become the wick. Illuminate all of the pain and unfairness and tragedy, and by contrast, the beautiful things hidden in the darkness. “Which of you want to give your lives and be writers?” Dillard asked her class, trying to make them understand everything it would cost. Hobbies. Distraction. Naivety. Ignorance. Neutrality. Complacency. That feeling of content well-being. Peace. Rest.

This is a long and meandering post and I apologize for that. It’s not going to circle around at the last second and answer the questions raised at the beginning. I’m sorry. I have no idea of the right way to face tragedy or to handle the pain of everyday life. I do know that you can’t ignore it for your own peace of mind. The candle can only hold back the darkness for as long as the wick burns and the wick can only burn for as long as it’s on fire.

Time for Him to Fly

It’s been about six months since I went to a visitation for one of my high school classmates. I’ve had lots of time to think over the experience, to try to understand it, and I think I’m starting to get a tenuous grasp on what happened and why it was so important to me.

I never felt like I belonged in high school. I wasn’t funny, pretty, or good at any sport. I was painfully awkward, the wrong kind of smart, and I looked and sounded kind of like a guy. High school for me was this ongoing fight to keep everyone else from realizing that I knew I had come to the wrong party.
So when I graduated, I didn’t look back. I did the college-on-the-coast thing and barely ever talked to anyone I used to know, even my best friends. I built my life—got married, bought a house, had two-point-five kids. I was far enough removed from everything high school that when Nick died, I heard about it from my sister, who spent more time around people from my class than I did. I didn’t cry. I couldn’t really even comprehend losing someone from the part of my life I cut off.
Driving to Shelbina for the visitation, I was nervous. I called my sister to see what she was wearing. I went back home and changed, then wondered whether I should go back and change again. When I finally got to the funeral home, I parked as far away as possible. I felt like I shouldn’t be there, that I didn’t deserve to be sad about Nick’s death. I had this irrational fear that my classmates would take one look at me and think, “What a poser. She hasn’t even talked to Nick since we graduated. Like she even cares.”
I tried to hide in plain sight the way I always had in high school. Be quiet, act natural. Pretend like you don’t know that you shouldn’t be here.
Then a strange thing happened while I was in the viewing line. Nick’s mom hugged me. She remembered my name. She knew I had two little boys. She said I had grown up into a beautiful woman. That shattered me. In the middle of all her loss and pain, she let me know I wasn’t unwanted.
An even stranger thing happened when I got to the crowd of my classmates beside the casket. They talked to me. It was as if we’d just seen each other a few days ago. We cried together, but then we laughed. Because this was Nick. He was the great equalizer of our class. There were weird kids and cool kids, jocks and band nerds—all of the usual high school designations—but Nick got along with pretty much everyone. While he was alive, he made us all laugh, sometimes until we cried or shot milk out of our nose. After he died, he made us laugh while we cried. As Cody put it, “I cried when I first found out, but all the way here, I kept remembering the good times we had and I couldn’t stop laughing.”
We stood up by the casket and remembered Nick-escapades. I thought about the freezing cold night at a football game when he pointed to where his marching band hat should’ve been and said, “Hat. Ha, ha. Get it? Because there’s not one.” Of Nick putting his plume in Vinnie’s sousaphone. The day he kept making up new sayings like, “We’re so good, if we were ice cream, no one would be able to stop eating us” and “We’re so tight, if we were clothes, no one could wear us.” The time in Fiber Optic Spanish when our teacher swore there weren’t any redheads with brown eyes and Nick got up in front of the camera and had us zoom in until she could see his eyes. The continuous stream of “dam” jokes he made as we crossed the dam on the way to Branson for our senior trip.
As we reminisced, I realized why this experience was so Nick. High school was unbearable, and probably everyone in my class felt at one time or another as if they shouldn’t be there, but Nick could make us laugh so hard that we forgot about our crushing inadequacies for long enough to feel like they didn’t matter.
On the way home, I turned the radio on and a song by REO Speedwagon was playing. Nick was the one who told me who the band was and what an REO speedwagon was. I turned it up and rolled down my windows and sang along and thanked Nick for everything he’d been to me and to my classmates. It hurts to say goodbye, but, well, you know.