Tuesday, April 21, 2015
The Thunderbolt: Redux
The voicemail icon on my iPhone was my first indication that something was seriously awry.
I am my father's son, and I inherited a great many things from him, like a proclivity for sporting facial hair and an insatiable appetite for reading. I also inherited from him a general avoidance of using voicemail: usually, if I call and I don't get picked up, I'll just hang up and send a text message.
So, that there was a voicemail waiting for me after I emerged from the shower was cause for concern by itself. Dad doesn't leave voicemails for just anything.
True to form, he didn't this time, either. He had called to tell me that his younger sister, my aunt, had died overnight in her sleep.
She was fifty-eight. I had last seen her about six weeks ago, at my grandfather's 90th birthday dinner.
And while she had been in bad health for a long time, this was not what I was expecting to start my Monday morning. So I did what a somewhat sane person might do after receiving this news: I took my dogs for a walk.
Spring in the Pacific Northwest is worth waiting for. The sun was already shining down early in the morning, and the pooches, despite not normally being morning pooches, took to it great, in part because I think they're beginning to develop that sixth sense that dogs often do of when I need them.
As we walked, the memories came flooding back. Each corner turned and each patch of pavement trod upon seemed to bring back more and more: the big family reunion my parents hosted 20 years ago for my grandpa's 70th birthday. Flying down to New Orleans and driving across the deep South to visit her and her son, my cousin, in Pensacola, Florida.
And getting another fateful phone call about her health, when I was still very young, that she had had a stroke. There are circumstances about that phone call that I still won't write about. But even that long ago, I began to see in my dad's family an initially unspoken but somber understanding that this would never quite be right again.
When she moved to Oregon to be closer to my grandfather, it wasn't because he needed care--despite having a heart attack about ten years ago, my grampy is still in very robust health and aside from his hearing, still has all of his faculties intact. It was because she needed the care, so ravaged her body had become by the lingering effects of that stroke.
It was then, when I too also lived close to my grandfather, that I began to see the slow death in person. It is a terrible thing to see a person you love grow tired of living, especially at so relatively a young age. And it is a terrible thing to realize that when that person does finally expire, there is a part of you that does rejoice that they have been set free from their living prison.
Such are the ways of death, inspiring both dread and gratitude even in its ceremonial practitioners who are tasked and equipped with sending off those whom it claims.
The thunderbolt had struck me again--coming off of a three-day weekend I desperately needed in order to get back to neutral after a busy Easter and the back-to-back deaths of two beloved congregants, the thunderbolt came like a sucker punch, blindsiding me after I had spent the weekend recuperating from an already trying Lenten season of loss.
But, I had to keep moving onward. I think that is why, really, I went walking with my dogs. I just couldn't bear to stand still at that moment.
Our walk over, the dogs climbed up the stairs ahead of me and waited for me to let them back into the apartment and into their den in the kitchen. After I had removed their leashes and refilled their water, I reached for the pullstring on the Venetian blinds of our kitchen windows to pull the blinds open again.
Immediately, the morning light flooded into our previously darkened apartment, and I was reminded of the chorus of an old hymn we still sing at my church a couple times a year:
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun, O Lord have mercy on me.
And I thought as well of my own God experience, that moment when I first felt the Holy Spirit's presence so directly and so powerfully that I plunged forward with my life to commit it to ordained ministry: when, after having lost my childhood friend to an auto accident on the night of my senior prom, I preached the following morning at my childhood congregation and felt the sunlight from the sanctuary's skylights fall down upon me and raise my temperature, my energy level, even my ability to speak.
Illuminated by the light, I had committed myself then, over a decade ago, to this particular path that I remain on to this day.
And bathed in the light now, I continue walking that path forward, towards its ultimate destination, which is the One who is light itself.
For, in the end, it is the light that matters most. And another day of life for me to serve my guiding light has begun.
Yours in Christ,
In loving memory of Leanne Atcheson. Ad vitam aeternam.
The photo is from C's and my honeymoon in New Zealand, of the mountains that surround the mirror lakes near Milford Sound on the South Island, silhouetted by the rising sun with a family of ducklings and their mother swimming in the foreground.