My Best Beloved and I had dinner on Friday night with Leslie and Chris, (they graciously gave me permission to use their real names.), new friends who exude a wonderfully attractive kindness, integrity and intelligence. We’ve wanted to get to know them better for a while…
Beyond all those lovely qualities, there’s something more, however. When I was first introduced to Leslie a few years ago, I noted a shadow around her. Not a frightening, dark, cloud, but rather a silvery wisp that added a contrasting depth to her personality, the sort of depth I suspected came from having to deal with, and survive, some pretty tough stuff.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I learned that Chris and Leslie have survived one of the worst tragedies imaginable — the death of their first-born daughter, in an accident so random and hideous it defies any sort of explanation. I can’t fathom the kind of effort it takes to simply go on living after something like that. But Leslie and Chris have done more than simply go on living, they have achieved a deep healing, and one that extends to the other people involved in the accident. Chris says they did this with help from “a community of deeply loving friends, including clergy, in whose comforting blanket of love and support we wrestled with our own faith and came out the other side believing in the good.”
As I heard the circumstances of the little girl’s death I remember thinking that finding a place of acceptance and forgiveness would require a level of effort I don’t think I have. A superhuman effort, in fact. And that’s when it struck me — of course it would require a superhuman effort, one outside my abilities, one that might also be called “Grace.”
Leslie talked to me about how every summer she and Chris, and their three boys go up to their place in the country, and how every evening they sit on the lake shore and watch the sun go down. As they sit there they gaze directly across the lake to the place where their little girl died.
“Oh, God,” I said, my heart seizing for her.
“No,” she said, “It’s all right, you know. It’s all right. She’s there.” She paused, eyes downcast for a moment, and then she looked up at me again. “It’s like… have you ever had that feeling where if you died right now–not really of course, but that feeling–that everything would be alright, that it would be okay, that you accept it?” I nodded. “That’s what it feels like looking over the lake sometimes, it’s an indescribable peace.”
And there it was again, that shadow-and-light mixture I had seen around Leslie when I first met her. Grace. I have no other word for it.
Perhaps that is where The Sacred lives. In a world designed so that, through death, we are ultimately, without a doubt, going to lose everyone and everything we’ve ever loved, I find it bizarre and miraculous that any of us permit ourselves to love at all.
I know that the possibility exists we will one day be reunited with our loved ones in some reality beyond this, but although I deeply yearn for this to be true, I have received no proof. I also know that, as a recently-widowed friend of mine says, it is possible that our loved ones haven’t gone anywhere but are just “in the next room.”
Still, when someone we love is ripped away from us, it doesn’t feel like that. Grief squats on our hearts, heavy as a slag mountain. It is so crushing a weight that you would think we would arrange our lives in such a way that would never again feel it. But we don’t.
And that’s the wonder of it. We don’t. Even knowing what we do about pain and loss, we choose to love. To me, this is proof of the existence of something sacred. I picture it as a enveloping spirit which, when all rational instinct tells me to protect myself and hold myself apart from the possibility of such excruciating pain, whispers in my ear, “Love, go ahead, love again. All shall be well.”
Which is madness, of course, since ultimately it won’t all be well. Or will it? My loved ones and I will die. And yet, the very fact that something beyond me urges me to love in spite of this fact, may, just may, mean that my limited vision does not permit me to see the end of the path. Truly, the world and all that’s in it is indescribably precious perhaps in part because it is so fleeting, but knowing what we know about the way the world works, surely it is a miracle that we open ourselves to it, that we permit love to enter and transform us, even knowing it will hurt us.
I have seen it time and time again, people who expose themselves to the inevitable anguish, the inescapable agony of loss… even knowing… even knowing.
In an email this morning after reading my draft of this blog, Chris said this, “The wonderment of it all stems from seeing the good in life and other people, even when one has been confronted with the worst of all tragedies. It is this ability to heal and achieve re-birth that reinforces the presence of the Sacred.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. I don’t pretend to understand it, I only know that I sense, deep down, the presence of something far greater than myself in that truth, and that it is enough.
My deepest thanks to Chris and Leslie for sharing their story with us, and for giving me permission to talk about it here.