Photo: Snowy morning in January, view from our deck
During quiet moments, even as a child, I've known I am one of the lucky ones. I've often wondered why others struggled in so many ways while I lived in relative ease and calm and comfort. Who decides who among us get born into a life of poverty, abuse, illness or tragedy? And is there, contained within my privilege, an obligation to those less fortunate? A responsibility to do something larger?
When kids in high school ranted on about how much they hated their parents or about how their lives were so miserable (and some were), I remained supportive yet silent. It's no easy task to refrain from chiming in with an, "I hate my parents too!" when acceptance and conformity were the social lifelines of the day, but it simply wasn't true. I found other ways to act in solidarity with those struggling friends without selling out my family (or my own dignity) by lying. Fact is, I had it pretty damn good and I knew it. And knowing how emotionally high-maintenance I've always been, it was even more clear that I should appreciate those who suffered me through my growing pains.
That was the thing I chose to tell Rob during our recommitment ceremony, when our church offered a quiet and private opportunity to renew our vows. We were asked to think on one thing that stood out for us that we so loved about our spouses, and then share them privately with each other. Ever the rule-breaker, I of course had a couple things to say (how can you choose just one?), but most important was my deep appreciation that Rob unfailingly stands by me through my tidal waves of emotions, and is always there on the other side waiting for me, without judgment, when I crash from the ride. And as with my parents, I know that while I can think of a zillion petty things to complain about (and do) I cannot ever claim to be alone or unsupported. Because I'm not.
I think now, those moments of quiet, when I pondered my lucky fate in life, those moments were building a foundation for future struggles. Now that life has dealt me a bit of perspective, I can work to place this pain and sadness on the continuum and see that while this past year has had its share of darkness, there has been far more light in my life. I'm not only glad I know it now, as I tentatively emerge from this dark hole of grief and dip a toe back into living again, but I'm so-so-so glad I knew it then, even before I had the opposing dark to expose the light. Because I took those moments to thank the universe for its blessings, and I accepted the responsibility contained within that grace, to feel deep feelings of empathy and love for those less fortunate and to hopefully, on occasion, express my gratitude to those who made it so.
I told my mom the other day, now I know why adults are no fun. I recall whining at my parents on occasion, when I was a teen, that they were no fun. Why didn't they go out with friends more? Why the seriousness all the time? Why not let loose and laugh until your sides hurt and act spontaneously? They just smiled.
I now understand that once that innocence is stolen, it marks a new phase. And now things that should and can be happy and joyful are tempered with worry and caution and "please don't let anything bad happen" kinds of neuroses. And while we say "Oh, you can't live like that," we know that we can, and we do. As parents, we see visions of our toddlers having tragic accidents because we turn our heads for just a second. We imagine all manner of horrid possibilities when our teens hitch a ride with a friend. We get a little nutty about knee pads and bike helmets and looking both ways a thousand times before crossing the street and not being able to look when they swing from the top of the jungle gym or an uncle tosses them into the air. Things that occur millions of times without incident, though we know it only takes that one time....
When I agitate on tragic moments, I lament that could we retrieve just five seconds, would that have made a difference...
Rob wisely pointed out that it probably makes a difference every single time. When we had this conversation, he'd just run back into our friends' house after realizing we'd left something behind, and he commented... did leaving 30 seconds later than planned save us from a tragic fate? Or put us closer to harm's way? Is there some sort of divine predetermination about these things? Are some of us destined to live only short lives while others trudge through a century of mostly-healthy years like my still-living almost-95 year old grandmother?
And so it is that another tragedy has occurred... 16 year old Kaitlin Miller, family friend, was killed in a skiing accident last Saturday. She was skiing fast, she fell down, she hit her head, and she died. When I heard the news from a friend, I had to call back a few minutes later and ask.... are you sure.... because I just couldn't wrap my head around it.
I won't attempt to memorialize Kaitlin here, to lay claim to something that is not my right. But when one of us loses a child, we all lose a child. And the pain we all feel for the Miller family goes as deep as any pain has ever gone. There are no words to say, no deeds to lessen their sorrow. We can only grieve with them and for them and let them know they are not alone through this.
Life can be so incredibly cruel. And while this tragedy doesn't lessen my pain for my father, it adds another layer of perspective to it. That was the "proper" order of things - my father was supposed to go before me. Just not yet. But this... the loss of a child shakes every foundation and shows just how little control we actually have.
But Kaitlin knew what she had, too. Her parents found notebooks she'd kept, containing all the little inspirational notes her father had written and left for her at various times ("She was my project," he told us), but also notes of affirmation she'd written for herself, acknowledging her weaknesses to be worked on and her strengths to be celebrated. What amazing insight for so few years.
So, while it's difficult to see in the looming darkness, the examples are still before us. Be grateful for what we have. Acknowledge the goodness that is our fortune. File it away for when the time comes to draw upon the strength of it. Seek light and bask in its warmth.
And to Kaitlin and my father and all those who travel on ahead of us.....
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields.... and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.