Sunday, August 24, 2008

In memory...

I wrote the following article a year or so ago in response to an email that I received that was so racist that it made me sick. I promptly sat down and wrote this piece, but then I never sent it out because it seemed too personal. It has never been published or sent out in any form, until today.

I look out the window at the Wyoming countryside. It seems more of a desert wasteland to me. "What a place to be buried, I mumble to myself." Perhaps she had liked it though.

The words of the obituary are still running through my head:

"Emelia ..., age 20, ... died Monday ... as the result of an automobile accident. She was born in 1981 ... Survivors are her parents ... six sisters, including her twin ... and a brother ..."

I couldn't get it out of my mind then and I cannot get it out now. I sat there at my desk and read it again and again. I was stunned. Now months later, I am still plagued by it all. So here I am, driving my old truck across the God forsaken Wyoming countryside. I glance over at the passenger seat, but the only thing there is a single red rose in a bottle of water. I look at the rose, and I wonder about it all. Why am I here? What am I doing all of this for? And even more of a question to me, why did she have to die? Twenty years old...

I pull up to the small cemetery and I sit there for a minute. Then I get out and I start to wander around in search of the gravestone. I cover the first half of the cemetery with no luck. "Where is she," I wonder out loud. Then I cross over to the second half of the cemetery. I stop to look at a particularly fancy headstone, and then I glance upward and out into the open end of the cemetery. There, about fifty feet away and all by itself, stands one lone headstone. It has a hanging flower basket next to it and I can read the wording from where I stand. My heart skips a beat and I catch my breath. "Emelia ... " the headstone reads. Simple, and alone. Out and away from all of the other graves.

I hesitate. Suddenly, I am not sure that I can go over there to it, but after a moment, I slowly walk over there and sit down about five feet away. I read the headstone again and again.

"To thine own self be true"
"Emelia ..."

Twenty years old. I am stunned and I feel like someone has hit me in the stomach. From somewhere inside, all the frustration, all the questions, and the extreme sense of loss just tumble out. I start to weep bitterly, and I look up and ask the simple question, "Why?" "Why did she have to die?" But the only response today is silence. Even the wind is perfectly still.
...I stand on the warm sand. In the distance, the sun is setting. In the shadowy dusk, there is a variety of activity in the small village. The gentle breeze is a relief from the heat of the day. As I walk down the village path, I am drawn to a lady that is sitting outside a hut with a child in her arms. I approach them. The woman watches me, wary and cautious. I try to talk with her. She indicates that the child is very sick. I gently feel the child’s forehead and the woman does not stop me. I am shocked as my hand touches the small head. The little girl has a burning fever. The woman eyes seem to wonder if I can help and my heart aches to help them. Later that night, as I sit against the wall on the dirt floor and hold the child, I wonder about it all. She is a beautiful little girl. The mother comes over and looks at the child, gently changing the damp cloth on the child’s forehead. The cloth is old and worn, more of a rag than anything. It all seems so hopeless. There is hardly food here for the child if she should live. I wish to myself that I could see her eyes. I doze off to sleep holding her in my arms. In the early morning hours, I hold the child as her spirit leaves her body. The mother is overcome with fatigue and grief. As I carefully pass the small bundle to the mother, I realize: She is a child of God. She is in good hands now.
...I walk through the airport. I am here to pick someone up from a flight and it has been delayed. I stand and watch as the people come off of the planes. I smile as an older lady is engulfed in embraces by her grandchildren. I watch as a young mother rushes to meet her husband, with her baby in her arms. I watch as a soldier in uniform walks towards a group of family. He embraces his mother first, and there are tears in her eyes. I watch as young and old alike stand in anticipation, looking down the corridor. There are cries of "I see him" and "there she is." The joy, the anticipation, and the happiness are tangible...and as I stand there, I realize, these are all children of God....They have kindred, ties, and they love others.
...I walk around the ruins of Perge. It is evening, and the setting sun sends rays of golden light dancing off of the ancient city walls. In the street, where there was once a bustling city, there are a few women and children trying to sell blankets and trinkets to the tourists. As I stand there, a young boy comes up and holds forward some short twigs of some very fragrant plant. He is speaking Turkish and I cannot understand him, but I gather that it is some sort of herb or spice. I pay him a quarter for one of the twigs and he allows me to take some pictures. He then goes off to rejoin his family, selling blankets in a dead marketplace. As the last light fades, I leave the city ruins and I wonder to myself, what will his life be? Will he be influenced by radical Islam? I realize that there are hardly any Christians in his country. Will he grow up to hate Christians? I cannot tell what his life will be like. But, he is child of God....
...I knock quietly and walk into the room. The young lady is laying in the hospital bed. The room is quiet and it is furnished nice enough, and yet I wonder to myself if it feels more like a tomb to her. A place that she would rather be rid of. I talk with her for a moment and offer my condolences. She has just had an infant die after living for a few brief moments. I wonder to myself what I could possibly say that would mean anything? Later in the hall, I speak with her husband. He is fighting to maintain his composure and I can see that it is all taking a toll on him. I wish that there is something that I could say, something that I could do...but I can’t. As I leave the hospital, I take comfort in knowing that they are children of God, and that he will help them.
...The nurse shows me to the bedside of the elderly lady. The lady notices me and reaches for my hand. She firmly grasps it with both of hers. "Thank you for coming," she says. I glance around the nursing home room at the walls and furnishings. The dear lady is in her eighties at least. I inquire how she is doing. "It’s pretty rough" she replies, "But they are taking good care of me here". We talk of her family, and her sister. She is Catholic, and has a Crucifix there close by. After some time, I go to leave and she seems reluctant to let go of my hand. A couple of weeks later, I hear that she has passed away...I wonder about it all, and I hope the best for her. I am happy to realize that she is a child of God.
...I step out of the shower and grab the ringing phone. "Jeff died on Saturday, can you make the viewing and funeral at 10:00?" says the voice on the line. "Sure, I’ll be there..." I reply. I switch out for my suit and tie. As I drive to the funeral, I wonder what I could possibly say to Kim, Jeff’s wife. Jeff has been battling with cancer for several months now, and some time ago the doctors sent him home to die. As I walk in, I am greeted by members of the family, tears in their eyes. On the table is a collection of family pictures. Pictures of family, friends, brothers, sisters, his wife. And his kids. Three beautiful children. The oldest is a six year old boy. In an awkward moment, I get trapped in the viewing room as they close the doors for the family prayer. I try and shrink into the corner, feeling that I don’t belong there. I watch as the young lady moves to the casket with her kids, their tears freely flowing, trying to be strong and brave. My heart aches for them. I wonder about her...will she be okay? I wonder about the kids. How will they turn out? Will they all be okay? Later on, I kneel down and shake hands with the oldest boy. "I’m sorry about your dad." I say. It seems lame to say, but what else can be said? He looks at me and simply says "Okay". He is trying to be strong and brave. As I walk out of the building, I wonder what life will hold for them. I can only take comfort in knowing that they are all children of God, and that he will be there for them.
...The father steps forward and takes the small baby girl from her mother. "Please join me," he asks the brethren present. I am pleased to be able to participate with her father, grandfather, uncles and cousins in blessing her with a name. Later on, I ask the mother if I may hold her. As I sit there and look at her, she is sleeping peacefully. I ponder over the wonder of it all. The little body, the individual fingers, the little fingernails. Her little nose, eyes and mouth. She is beautiful, and almost seems like an angel. Her hair is long and dark. I wonder to myself, what will life hold for her? What trials will she face? How will she deal with the issues that life will throw her direction? Will she be okay? As I gently hand her back to her mother, I take comfort that she is a child of God. The fact that she is here is evidence that there is still hope.
...I sit across from a little girl and I look at her. She is a beautiful little girl, about three years old. She is truly radiant, radiant with a light that seems almost to come from within her, instead of around her. Her eyes are captivating, her hair blondish in color. She has a small smile, and gazes evenly back at me. I can tell that she is happy, and truthfully, I marvel at it a little.

"Why would you want to come here?" I ask her. "Look at everything. It’s a mess. The wickedness, the evil, the heartache. Why come here at all?"

"Because of the opportunity to love," she replies. "The opportunity to love in a way that is not possible where I am right now."

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