It’s here. The sweltering, hazy, hot and humid days of summer have hit southeastern PA. This is the weather that I wait for all year long. As a runner, it may seem counterintuitive, but I love running in the heat. I love coming home drenched. I love seeing the sweat dripping off my sunglasses. I love that first icy swallow when I take a long drink after a tough run. If it wasn’t for my hubby, I would (almost) never turn on the air conditioner.
I did a short run from the rec center this morning to test drive my ankle, which I rolled during a weekend race. The first two steps hurt, and I thought “Uh oh!“, but my third step and each one after that was pain-free, so marathon training continues.
When I got home, I read some blogs I subscribe to, including one of my favorites. In this post, the author mentioned her reluctance to write about difficult, personal things. My mind went to an item on my “Blog Topic Ideas” list that has been sitting there for nearly as long as I have been writing a blog. It concerns an incident that happened a long time ago and caused a lot of pain. It also engendered difficult questions throughout my life. I took a deep breath, and decided “It’s time.”
This idea has been swimming around, circling, at the bottom of my memory pool for years. Something unexpected, some innocent trigger, always causes it to surface, and then I must ask myself the questions for which I have no easy answers. The names in this story have been changed and some of the details too, but anyone who has known me since I was a teenager will recognize it.
The first new friend I made when I transitioned from grade school to junior high was David. Even though my interest in boys was burgeoning back then, my feelings for David were strictly platonic. One of my best friends “liked” him, and that made him strictly off limits for me. Thank goodness! We didn’t have all the drama associated with a teenage romance, we could concentrate on just being friends. David was a freckle-faced boy with a Justin Bieber haircut long before Justin Bieber was a thing. I always remember David with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He was friendly, kind and smart, often up to some benign mischief. I liked him for all of those reasons.
David’s family was more religious than mine. My family attended church most weeks. We were Lutherans. David’s family attended church every week. They were Brethren. In those days, Brethren women wore a head covering to church (some of them still do today), but not in everyday life. David was the youngest of five siblings. His family lived on a farm.
One warm spring day, driving home from church with his siblings (but not his parents), David’s sister stopped the car in the lane that led to their farmhouse. Some of his brothers got out. They wanted to ride down the lane on the hood of the car. They were laughing, carrying on, having a good time when Gary, David’s brother who was older by one year, slipped from the hood of the car directly in front of the left front tire. David’s sister could not stop in time and ran over his head, killing him immediately.
David’s parents were, of course, grief-stricken. Their healthy, fun-loving son was gone in the blink of an eye. His sister was crushed with remorse and guilt. She was the oldest and the driver of the car. The rest of the siblings, including David, were traumatized. They had witnessed the accident and the aftermath.
There were other incidents of loss and grief in my childhood and teenage years, but the reason this particular incident remains so vivid to me is not only because of its tragic nature but also the question that it creates: “Why does God allow suffering?” Especially in such good people – happy, care-free siblings, upright, church-going parents.
Does God really need to allow such a terrible accident to show us who’s boss? Who among you reading this would be so cruel? Who would crush a teenage boy’s head to make a point? I have been pursuing the answer to that one question for most of my adult life. The answer I have arrived at is not overtly satisfactory, but it reverberates like truth. I found some of it in a slim 76-page book called Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard.
In this book, Ms. Dillard writes of a little girl she knew whose face was burned in a freak airplane accident. She asked a question similar to mine: “How could God allow this to happen?”
If you picture God (if you think of Him at all) as a watchmaker, one who set the world spinning, then cruelly abandoned us to time, then yes, that God is unspeakably brutal. He allows daily torments and tragedies that would move even the most indifferent humans to tears. Faith, however, requires me to believe that God has tethered himself to time “as a man would lash himself to a tree for love.” If you have faith that God is good (and I do), then this is what you must believe. He has deliberately circumscribed himself by attaching himself to time and to us.
We are, all of us, flung into time without warning, without a lifeboat. It is our birthright. What God does not do is to stop time to insert what we think of as compassion into our days. Time’s immensity rolls on, churning out gorgeous sunsets, fragrant jasmine, golden retriever puppies and tragic deaths. “Not as the world gives do I give unto you.” Or, if you prefer Meister Eckhart, “God is at home. We are in the far country.” The connection between time and eternity is the holy flame of Christ.
There is no one to offer compassion here on earth but us. It is our one vocation, the one act we are called to do. Let the light of God’s flame shine through you. Be compassionate to your fellow time travelers. You never know what tragedies they have suffered over time.
When I retired from teaching last year, there was a farewell ceremony in the auditorium for all the retirees in the district. After the proceedings, as the seats were emptying and I was standing, talking to well-wishers, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was David. I had not seen him in years. He still had that great smile, still had that twinkle in his eyes. He told me that he retired after a long career in finance, then, because he missed being around people, became an elementary school custodian in my district. He is married with children and grandchildren. He still attends the same church that he did all those years ago when we were in junior high school and his world fell apart. Time has dulled the wounds of losing his brother in such a devastating way. Time and compassion, the shadow and the light from a holy flame. One is inevitable, the other is up to each of us.
I am linking with Random-osity for The Good, The Random, The Fun. I am linking up with blovedboston for Weekending. I am linking up with Shank You Very Much for her Global Blogging link up. I am linking up with Clean East Fast Feets for her Week in Review. Check it out for some more great reads (including some very yummy recipes!) I am linking up with Char at Trekking Thru. Check out some moving inspirational blogs here. I am linking up with Deb Runs for her Wednesday Word. I am linking up with Eclectic Evelyn for her Words on Wednesday link up. I am linking up with Debbie at Dare 2 Hear. Check out the inspirational posts on her Tune in Thursdays.