Sometimes it all happens at the same time.
Life comes to a boil and spills over, leaving us surprised and caught off guard. And we are reminded just how fragile life can be.
John D. Coopwood (Johnny), my grandfather, passed away at the age of ninety-nine. My son and I, along with two other family members, held onto his coffin as we slowly guided it into the Menefree Bible Church, where we gathered to say goodbye and remember a life well lived.
“Papa” Short, my sister-in-law’s father, slipped away from us only two days ago. I remember him as a gentle giant with a booming laugh and a big smile and hands that swallowed my hands. I was always a child when standing beside him.
And now he is gone.
Loss. The stark reality of an empty chair.
Then there is the worst kind of loss, which is sudden loss. Unexpected. No warning. The kind of loss that happens in less time than it takes to pick up a coffee at the Starbucks Drive-thru. One minute all is fine, and the next minute there is an automobile crash and – unbelievably, tragically, horrifically – a life is lost. Gone. Just like that. And this is real. This is happening. This is not television. This is not a news story in some other town.
How do you deal with the next five minutes?
The next day? Week? Month? Year? That chair ... is empty.
Life is exploding. It is boiling over. My cell phone is lighting up with sad and catastrophic news. I cannot keep up. I cannot find the right words to respond. I don’t want to believe what I am reading.
Another message comes. A friend has a lump in her breast. More tests are required. What does it mean? Cancer? We are not prepared to receive this news. Fear. Trepidation.
Or how about the man whose grandchild caught a staff infection that literally came from the unknown depths of the hospital, and now the child is struggling to stay alive.
Loss. Tragedy. Fear. The unknown.
How do we cope? How do we handle all of these things?
I think about all of this as I lace up my running shoes and go out onto the trail to do what I have always done – run and try to figure out this thing called life. As I slide into the familiar rhythm of my slow shuffle, my dance, I consider the cancer that is in my own body and my upcoming treatment, and it seems like a small thing compared to what’s been happening all around me. At least I have a plan. At least I have hope.
But what about the mother whose son was in that car? What kind of hope does she have? There is no plan. No cure. Only loss. Only a room full of things left behind.
My run takes me to the top of a desert hill. Nothing but sky and silence all around me. Time pauses. I feel the sun on my face. “God,” I pray. “We need you. We all need you. Because this is all too much for us to deal with on our own.”
I feel a sense of calm. A sense that someone greater/higher/bigger/ is in control. The sun is a constant reminder of that fact. It rises every day. No matter what.
On the way down, following my well-known trail through a series of switchbacks, I think of my grandchildren. Four little faces. Fresh. New. Bright. Eyes full of the very thing I am looking for – hope. And I realize that the answer I am looking for lies in them. They are the future. They are the ones who will carry me into old age, into that Menefree Bible Church to say goodbye. They are the ones whose dance is just beginning.
Life really is a circle. And it does boil over. And it can be sad and tragic and fearful.
But there is hope. Sometimes it is hard to recognize because our pain and confusion are too much. For me, that hope can be found in the innocent and untainted smile of a three-year old little girl. I hold onto that smile. I thank God for that smile.
Press on, dear friends. Be courageous. There is hope. Sometimes you just have to search for it.