My friend Robin C. has a new name for her blog: Beautiful and Terrible. You may know Robin from her Metanoia or Gannet Girl blogs. She is a gifted writer, a pastor, wife and mother. Two of her children are here; one is in heaven.
The title of her blog comes from this quote:
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” ~ Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith
This intersection of beautiful and terrible is where I find myself right now.
“Don’t be afraid” is not always as easy as those three words sound.
Looking at the photos of David standing on the pontoon of that helicopter in Switzerland, looking down thousands of feet – knowing that he had a parachute and was strapped to a professional skydiver, but that accidents can happen – brought back the fear of 2006-7, when Katie was in the hospital, being treated for cancer. Post-traumatic stress reared its head; I felt the vertigo.
I found the photos of his helicopter ride – and the jump – both beautiful and terrible. The natural splendor of the region, the snow, the blue sky at dusk, the raw emotions of anticipation, fear, exhilaration and joy on my son’s face – these are beautiful. The fact that he could have died, that a mishap might have occurred, that the risk was unnecessary, that I felt once again the fear that my child could die, – this is terrible.
I am glad that David is not living in the shadow of fear. I am grateful for his zest and passion for life; glad, for his sake, that he had this experience. For my own sake, I wish that he would never take such a risk again.
We found out about his skydiving after the fact, and he apologized in case it had caused me grief. I told him, My fear is not your responsibility. But I tell you, it is sometimes hard to bear. I have a case of the “after-nerves,” though I still can’t seem to stop looking at the photographs.
With the beauties of the Christmas-Hannukah-New Year season upon us, I feel the energy behind the preparations. I read the Advent scriptures, and I try to muster some anticipation. But I am falling back this year, back into 2006, when we were living in Ronald McDonald House with a very sick, frail and miserable Katie.
I can feel the fear, the anxiety, the discomfort, the homesickness, the longing for our family traditions. I remember making decorations for our room: a wreath and two artificial trees for the children. I remember the kindness of the carolers who arrived to sing for us, the cookies and cider, the Christmas-night feast laid out by generous volunteers, who could have been at home with their own families, but chose instead to share in our “not-at-home” Christmas festivities.
There are parallels which can be drawn between that time in our lives, and the journey of Mary and Joseph to the little stable behind the inn where Jesus was born. We were lovingly provided for: lodging, food, medical care, kindness, friendship, prayer. I could make a beautiful story out of these elements, drawing out the parallels, and perhaps, someday, I will.
Today, however, I am missing my daughter, wishing that she were here to share in decorating our home, baking cookies, wrapping gifts, dressing up, hosting and guesting with us. Today, I feel the emotions of longing, homesickness, grief for what was and will never be again.
I tell myself, Do not ruin the holiday with sadness. Do not waste it with ingratitude. Do not dwell on what you do not – and cannot – have. Think of others, less fortunate than you. Do something for them. But the pain in the pit of my stomach, the sense of being ill at ease, remains.
It has been six years since we spent Christmas at Ronald McDonald House, yet my emotions are as raw and painful as if it was last year.
Advent may be just what I need…if I will only open to it, rather than clinging to my sadness. “Be not afraid,” he said…and he said it often.
Heavenly Father, help me to open my broken, traumatised heart to Your love, to Your son’s coming again. Come, Lord Jesus.
David in London.
This post is about our son, David. I have his permission to write it.
(Many of the photos are borrowed from facebook, some without permission.)
Gregg and I always dreamed that our children would go to college. My parents and grandmother collaborated to make this easy for us. It is a family value; education is highly regarded, and there is family folklore to back it up, going back to my great-grandparents’ generation. For example:
My mother’s paternal grandmother graduated from U.C. Berkeley in the class of 1898.
My mother’s paternal grandfather generously paid the tuition for a friend of her father’s at Yale University. All he asked in return was that the young man do the same for someone else…and he did.
My mother’s maternal grandfather was offered the gift of a college education, and turned it down. He regretted this decision for the rest of his life, and this story entered family lore. He always carried a pocket-sized volume of a portion of Shakespeare’s writings with him; his library survives him. His daughter (my grandmother Emilie) went on to receive a master’s degree and a scholarship to study for a year in France…in the 1920s.
So a college education is a big deal in my family, and David and Katie’s college education was assured by their loving relatives, a fact for which Gregg and I are deeply thankful. We dreamed (early on) of a period of study abroad for each of them. I spent a quarter in England, and Gregg took a “grand tour” after his graduation. It is a family value of ours for broadening horizons, growing in culture, understanding and flexibility.
When David chose Gonzaga University, we knew that his study abroad options were good. We did not know that he would choose to study in Florence, but were happy when he did so. He left in September and has less than 3 weeks remaining in this program. It has been a joy to hear about it from him each week when we talk though “face time.”
He is taking Italian language classes daily, as well as business classes. He has traveled to London, Ireland, Scotland, the Ligurian Coast, Venice, Switzerland, Austria, Prague, Spain and Germany. He is maintaining good grades, and making wonderful friendships.
David has seen “Skyfall” at midnight in England during its premiere weekend, and heard classical music performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. He has visited the National Gallery as well as pubs, distilleries and breweries. He has been to hear his first opera (Turandot) and taken his first ride in a helicopter – and he has jumped out of that helicopter, with a professional skydiving guide, next to the Eiger, in Switzerland. (This was a shock to us. We are thankful that he survived, and the photographs are stunning.)
David in the helicopter on the way up. The sun is setting behind the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.
Jumping out of a perfectly good helicopter around 13,000 feet.
Safely on the ground in Grindelwald.
Gregg, David and I had been to this gorgeous area in the summer of 2009. We went hiking in the hills and took the train around the valleys and over the mountain passes. It is a magical place.
We never dreamed that our son would jump out of a helicopter and free fall, then drift down using a parachute, over those same beautiful hills in winter a few years later.
David is living abundantly after the catastrophe of the death of his sister and best friend. He is balancing culture, education and fun in ways that are astounding to us. Gregg and I could not be more grateful or proud of this young man who is our only surviving child – our son, our first born, our joy.
Thanks be to God for our children, here and healthy, as well as those in heaven. Thanks be to God for the survival and flourishing growth of those who are with us. Amen.