Beautiful and terrible ~ the phrase of Frederick Buechner's that came to mind as I began to think about a blog overhaul. It seemed to reflect something about where I find myself right now. Seeing both, simultaneously. As Mary Oliver says in her poem Heavy, "I went closer and I did not die." And I like Buechner ~ a lot ~ how could I not? A Presbyterian pastor who writes with a singular grace; a minister who got his start as the chaplain at Phillips Exeter Academy, a school in New Hampshire which, although I've never set foot on the campus, looms large in our family lore as the one from which my father and his brothers graduated; and a man who as a boy lost own father to suicide. How could I not see myself in his intricately crafted sentences?
Beautiful and terrible. As I wrote to a friend yesterday, I often feel as if I am living two parallel lives. Genuine, authentic lives ~ but two of them. I wonder whether everyone who lives under a cloud of grief knows that dual reality. How many times in the past year has one person or another said to me, "No one knows. You can't talk about it. People go on with their own lives, they wonder what's wrong with you that you aren't "over it," and they don't want to know differently." Women who have lost husbands recently, parents who lost children last summer or decades ago, people who toil under the weight of constant care for a spouse or child that upends all semblance of normal life.
I have been much taken of late with the work of Becky Eldridge, a gifted young spiritual director. (I think she lives in Texas now, so those of you down there might want to look her up ~ although I don't know where she is, and I do realize that Texas is kind of large.) This morning she writes (yes, I took the picture from her post) about the rails of a train track as a metaphor for the consolations and desolations ~ God seemingly very close and very far ~ of life, with the railroad ties representing prayer, which holds the rails together.
She caught my attention right away. Long ago, I was an attorney for a railroad company, and one of my tasks was to meet periodically with lawyers for the Federal Railroad Administration which, among other things, regulates track standards and inspects for safety. As a consequence, I know a few things about train tracks. (There's a crossing out here in the country where my church is located that causes me to wonder, every time I bump over it, "Where the hell are the FRA guys when you need them?")
It occurred to me, reading her piece this morning, that the rails might also illustrate Beuchner's phrase about beautiful and terrible things happening in life, and my own sense of apprehending and living those things in parallel, distinct lives. And the cross-ties as prayer? I suppose I might say that in the first couple of years after Josh died, it was as if the ties had been blown to smithereens, and the process for the rest of my life will be a painstaking re-laying of track, foot by foot, with frequent do-overs for the ties that unpredictably splinter into fragments just as I think I've secured them into place.
This morning, seeing the dawning light reflected in the windows, I hurriedly pulled on some pants and a fleece pullover so that I could take a short walk to watch the sunrise over a vacant field. As I stood there in the early chill, I thought about how lovely the mist was, low across the ground, with the sky beginning to brighten above it. And then I thought: Josh will never see an early morning sunrise again.
Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.