As a young girl, I heard an adult tell his friend, “I took a page from your book.” Avid reader and lover of all things in print, I misunderstood his statement. Annoyed that anyone would rip a page from a book, I determined not to lend my books to anyone without first ensuring they agreed to leave all pages intact.
Later, I learned this was simply a phrase meaning, “I did something you would do.” Reading other blogs, I often find my recent thoughts mirrored. I’m not sure if this is because we tend to gravitate to others similar to ourselves (in physical life and online) or simply coincidence, but I feel as though we are having a conversation. I thought something you would think.
I’ve been thinking lately about what I’ll leave behind. How only a moment—just a breath—can take us from one reality to the next. What a sheer curtain hangs between now and forever. Seems like you’ve been thinking about the same.
Just so you know, I took a page from your blog.
When you don’t have an artifact which will save you in your afterlife, don’t give value to your artifacts in this world! – SP
You are not alive in memories
but that is the place I find you,
so I fan the small fire,
today. – LL
I don’t fear death anymore; I fear looking back on my time here on this earth and realising that I missed out on so many wonderful opportunities because of such a naïve notion of allowing apprehension of the inevitable to destroy the wonderful gift of life that I have been presented. I don’t want to grow old having squandered my time, or having lived an un-lived life. – CN
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but the trailer describes what’s inside my head.
A short time. Like a mist. Snap of the fingers. Don’t blink.
We are separated by so thin a fabric from the other side. We ignore reality, go about our business. Our lives.
Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the knowledge of how quickly life can end. I gaze around the room, arrested in the realization that one of us could be absent at any moment. The immediacy of impending change.
An unexpected gust extinguishes the flame. The Daylily blooms in the morning, opening bright colors to the sun and by evening shrivels to nothing. In an instant, our bodies become a shell, a container empty in sudden finality.
I forget, at times, that this is not ‘my’ life. It is easy to settle into comfort, expecting certain players and characters to appear, disappear, reappear.
But we are reciprocal performers, all bearing roles in The Grand Masterpiece. Every performance, every pageant demands the inexorable curtain call.
Nothing but a moment separates us from leaving it all behind.
I wrote the above while sitting in a church service. A heavy feeling descended; the almost-knowledge of impending change. That someone would soon lay down the script.
I make no pretense of having a direct line to the future, but the weight of that sense was undeniable. Looking around the room, I wondered who it might be.
The retired Army general, always at attention? The empty-nest mother? The ancient farmer decked out in his silver and turquoise-studded leather string tie? The young woman with a heart condition? The middle-aged man with cancer? Me?
What bars our heart from stopping, keeps lungs from failing, prevents our brain from declining to send messages?
No one died that day. Or that week.
I felt better. But still, the visual of the Daylily haunted the edges of my thoughts.
The following Saturday, I attended a ladies’ create-something-cool event at our church. I learned how to pronounce decoupage.
My friend Ana, curves added by her pregnancy, approached with questions about heart surgery. Her baby girl had a heart defect similar to my son’s. They would perform surgery soon after birth to close the hole. She even had the same wonderful surgeon. Still, she twisted her coarse, dark ponytail with nervous energy.
She relaxed as we talked, as I praised the surgeon, as we smiled over my son’s quick recovery. She walked away.
Four days later, I received the message from another friend. Ana had a stroke. She was unresponsive. The baby might die.
I thought of the movie and wondered if she could hear everything around her.
Texts, phone calls and prayers—sad, desperate, hopeful—punctuated the night.
Moved to a better hospital, she did not wake. More prayers, more calls.
While souls hovered, her two beautiful boys said goodbye to their mother and the sister they would never know. Her husband released his wife and daughter. His loves.
Within hours, they were gone.
Sons bereft of mother, husband lacking loving partner, friends without her shining presence. All left destitute.
Just before the funeral, I found the note and remembered the feeling. It returned with concussive force.
I’ve only now been able to write this.
We have no promise of tomorrow. For that matter, no assurance of today. No guarantee that I will draw another breath.
But I have hope. Do you?
1 Peter 1:3-5
3 Give praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us a new birth and a living hope. This hope is living because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. 4 He has given us new birth so that we might share in what belongs to him. This is a gift that can never be destroyed. It can never spoil or even fade away. It is kept in heaven for you. 5 Through faith you are kept safe by God’s power. Your salvation is going to be completed. It is ready to be shown to you in the last days.
From the Progress-Index, November 1, 2015:
Casey Alexander and her husband passed away yesterday in a one-car crash.
They are survived by their children, ages nine and eleven, three parents, six siblings and ten nieces and nephews. Witnesses from vehicles behind them say the two were heading north around a highway ramp in his Mustang when the car lost traction in the rain, spun a 360, flipped and crashed. The car landed at the bottom of an eight-foot embankment. No memorial arrangements have been announced at this time.
That almost happened.
Yesterday, Hubby and I left the kiddos with our favorite babysitter (the only one who didn’t run away screaming in those first few years) to take a much-needed day to ourselves. We haven’t had a “date day” in…well, I can’t remember the last one.
Right before we left, our daughter hugged me and said, “I’ll really miss you while you’re gone.” This has NEVER happened. Usually, when we leave, she has one of two reactions:
- Ignores us completely.
- Communicates (by dancing around, giggling wildly or running through the house) that she is thrilled to be rid of us. Or, for the sake of accuracy, me.
I was happy (and slightly flabbergasted) at the demonstrative-for-her comment. Our boy kissed me on the cheek, also a bit out-of-the-ordinary when others are present, but he’s familiar with the sitter.
Ten minutes later, we zipped down the road in his red Mustang. We’re a Mustang family; in fact, a Mustang led us to the kids.
Side note: I just had a song flash through my mind, to the tune of the Addams Family theme. The Mustang Family (bah dah dah duh) *snap snap.* Don’t worry. I’ll spare you the rest.
Almost seven years ago, Hubby called me. “I found it! Can I get it? We saved the money; we should have enough. It’s the one!” For the record, he knows he doesn’t have to ask “permission,” but he always does. And I always say yes, of course.
A certain special Mustang eluded him for years; on that day he found “the one” for sale on a road near our house. When I arrived home, Hubby stood in our driveway with a new-to-us old Mustang and a tall young man, the previous owner. “I’m pastor at the brick church down the road. We’d love to have you visit sometime,” he said.
The following Sunday, we attended.
“You’re here!” he said, surprised.
“You invited us,” we said. After three years of looking for a church where we fit, the gentleman who said the closing prayer added, “Remember, a visitor is just a friend we haven’t met yet!” Hubby and I looked at each other, smiling. The man had echoed our former pastor, a beloved friend lost to cancer. This was home.
Soon, we met Kay, her five biological children and several foster children. Two years later, Kay welcomed two small children into her home for a weekend of respite care, and introduced us to our future kids.
Five years down the road, in a different Mustang, we head off on a day of respite for ourselves.
He took the curve of the highway ramp no faster than usual. Hubby has always had an innate grasp of driving mechanics, and several years ago I surprised him with a stunt driving class (which he aced). He knows exactly how to handle power.
I grinned over at him as we headed for the highway. Then, we hit a bump. In other conditions, the jar to the tire wouldn’t matter, but this time the road was wet and slick.
Autumn colors spun around me, and for a moment it felt like a dream. I thought, “Pretty. Like a kaleidoscope.”
Snapping back to reality, I saw the clear problem. Skidding wheels, spinning car, deep ditch fast approaching. I thought, “Oh, hey, are we going to die? I think we are.”
My life did not flash before my eyes. I had only one thought, outside of the certainty we’d soon be dead. “Dang it. She just started to care whether we come back!”
The car slid to a stop inches from the edge of an eight-foot drop. We’d made a complete 360. I peered down to our no-longer-certain doom.
Cars approached, so he pulled out to the highway and took the next exit.
I leaned on the hood as hubby checked each tire and wheel, pronouncing everything fine. “Let’s go,” he said. I assumed he meant back home. Nope. He headed out to the highway, ready for our date. My man.
We both started laughing. “Sorry,” he gasped, “I don’t know why I’m laughing, but I can’t stop.” I guess it was the adrenaline. Neither one of us could rein it in for several minutes.
You’d think a near-death experience would change everything, but this morning, I woke up cranky and spoke sharply to both kids. After they went to school, I realized that although they had managed to disobey before 8 am (and before my coffee) on a Monday, I could still have handled it better.
After all, today is a gift. Tomorrow isn’t promised. And I’m thankful to have one more day to try to do things a little better, like being more patient and thankful.
Speaking of thankful, I texted our sitter and thanked her again for being a consistent good influence in our kids’ lives. She replied that she told her mom about our near-miss, and her mom said, “That’s so weird. I had this worrying feeling yesterday that they might die, so I prayed for their safety.” I’m sure she just thought it was an odd thought, but hey, we’re still here, so maybe that prayer saved our lives.
I’m also pretty sure that after they dusted off their robes and wings, our guardian angels requested re-assignment. “Those two are crazy. They’re wayyyyyyyy too much work. Let someone else have a turn!”
We have such a tenuous connection to life. Let’s take a moment to consider the opportunities we’re given, to appreciate the individuals around us. Complain less. Endure more. Hope more. Love more.
Today, I’ll focus on living as though Casey Alexander is dead. If I think about what I would wish I’d done on my last day, maybe I’ll be nicer. More patient.
Imagine you know you’ll live only 24 more hours. What will you do?
Photo Credit: Casey Alexander
In the U.S., we remember all the men and women who gave their lives in war on Memorial Day.
Whether or not you’re American, and whether (American or not) you agree with the decisions and tactics of our military, I’m sure you understand the feeling of patriotism and pride in the origins of culture and country. The gratitude we have for those who have sacrificed to give us life.
I’m somewhat ashamed to say that although I’ve always participated in the general “thankful” activities (parades, picnics, parties), it’s sometimes easy to forget why we have the day off. This time, Memorial Day was a bit different.
This weekend, a young man in our church sang Mark Schultz’s “Letters from War.” I first heard LFW years ago, during the heat of battle in Iraq. Tension levels soared at home as we daily heard of the deaths of soldiers from many different countries.
Both of my brothers signed up for the National Guard a few months before the tragedy of 9/11 (at the time, I was under the impression the National Guard stayed in-country to Guard the Nation, but my misunderstanding became evident as young women and men deployed). They went to Iraq and Afghanistan. Due to a bombing, we had no word from one of my brothers for far too long. I heard this song while we waited for confirmation he lived.
“Letters From War”She walked to the mailbox
On that bright summers day
Found a letter from her son
In a war far away
He spoke of the weather
And good friends that he’d made
Said “I’d been thinking ’bout dad
And the life that he had
That’s why I’m here today”
And at the end he said
“You are what I’m fighting for”
It was the first of the letters from war
She started writing
“You’re good and you’re brave
What a father that you’ll be someday
make it home
make it safe”
She wrote every night as she prayed
Late in December
A day she’ll not forget
Oh her tears stained the paper
With every word that she read
It said “I was up on a hill
I was out there alone
When the shots all rang out
And bombs were exploding
And that’s when I saw him
He came back for me
And though he was captured
A man set me free
And that man was your son
He asked me to write to you
I told him I would, oh I swore”
It was the last of the letters from war
And she prayed he was living
Kept on believing
And wrote every night just to say
“You are good
And you’re brave
what a father that you’ll be someday
Make it home
Make it safe”
Still she kept writing each day
Then two years later
Autumn leaves all around
A car pulled in the driveway
And she fell to the ground
And out stepped a captain
Where her boy used to stand
He said, “Mom, I’m following orders
From all of your letters
And I’ve come home again”,
He ran in to hold her
And dropped all his bags on the floor
Holding all of her letters from war
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home
I don’t think I need to explain the emotion this song created the first time I heard it. This Sunday as I sat in church, the emotion, unexpected and encompassing, crashed over me like an ocean wave. I’d forgotten the absolute agony of not knowing. Of being almost certain our last goodbye was exactly that.
This Memorial Day brought that memory, sharp and vivid, slamming into me. I couldn’t stop the tears. Our son, always concerned when I’m anything but happy, asked in stage-whisper, “are you crying, Mama?” I wrote him a note on a napkin fast becoming soaked.
“The first time I heard this song, we didn’t know if your uncle was alive. It reminded me of that feeling and also made me very thankful that both your uncles came home, safe. Happy tears.”
He nodded and snuggled into my side, taking my hand and wrapping my arm around his shoulders. I closed my eyes and thanked God for the freedom to sit with my family in any church I choose, for the freedom of others to do the same—and for the freedom not to attend, if they prefer. The freedom to speak freely, to write my opinion with no fear of repercussion. The freedom to give, to love, to serve. The freedom to tell the truth.
I thanked God my brothers came home safe.
And prayed for the families whose brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers did not return.
Regardless of where you live or your country of origin, someone has sacrificed for you. Let’s keep the memory alive for more than one day.
I want to live a Memorial Life.
We are now Hamsterless.
Our son is devastated.
Hubby and I left for a weekend away (which, as you know, included a full day of reading for me while he attended a conference). Saturday morning, after a full night of sleep with NO interruptions, my cell dinged.
The frantic text from the babysitter read, “Hamster is dead. What do we do with it???”
I called, he cried. In the spirit of solidarity, our daughter cried. The sitter asked if she should throw it out, or bury it, or…
She did not want to bury it. I could tell. Something about the way her voice squeaked when she said “bury.”
I directed her to put the entire cage in Hubby’s work room and lock the door (being sure no cats wandered in).
This afternoon, we gathered as a family and had a Hammie Funeral. I found a heart-shaped rock, which our son placed on top of the Rubbermaid casket.
As my husband filled the dirt back in, our son asked me to say something about the hamster.
“Pumpkin was a good hamster. We all loved him. He never stopped trying to escape; he just knew one day he’d chew through those metal bars. We don’t know why he died, but we are glad for the time we had with him. Enjoy Hamster Heaven, Pumpkin. Run wild and free in the meadow with no bars to hold you back.”
Actually, that last part is what I wish I’d said. Note to self: tell the kids tomorrow that he’s running wild and free. They’ll like that.
And as much as I loved Pumpkin, I’m sort of relieved. Ever since we brought the new pup home, I’ve been dreading the day that acrobatic canine might find a way to jump from bed-to-chair-to-desk-to-dresser (I’ve already tossed him off our high kitchen table more than once) to the hamster cage.
Sad the hammie is gone; reallyreallyreallyreally glad the dog didn’t do it. He’s actually sleeping in our son’s room tonight–he’s a great therapy dog (not trained…he just is).
Once again, our kids face permanent separation. It never gets easier.
Image from https://swimmerofnz.wordpress.com. It looks exactly like Pumpkin.