Sunday, May 31, 2009

again, death

I was going to write about the extraordinary doings at church today, but after readings Jon's most recent post I think I'll write about death some more. Because I'm not as genuinely thrilled about the Big Vote today, though I should be, as others are. I can see the hurdles we have still to clear, know that the outcomes there are even less amenable to intuition than was the math behind the Vote. Today is Pentecost -- it's all about the Holy Spirit, telling us what it hears in the world, revealing the words that Jesus held back in the end, just a bit at a time; to absorbed when we are ready. What are we ready for now, now that the Vote has passed and we will soon enter the real estate game in earnest? What home truths and great surprises will blow our hair back? Amidst the uncertainties of all that, Death as an absolute seems easier to center on.

But, tell that to Pastor Evelyn's sister, whose great-grandchild was removed from life support after a terrible car accident (which I knew nothing about before today) that occurred last weekend. A woman survived; her fiance, her baby son, her daughter and her daughter's 2-year-old were killed, as well as the daughter's friend. They were struck by the always-present Memorial Weekend Drunk Driver. Who of course wasn't seriously injured. They were broadsided, and the accident report indicated the damage to the van was so severe that it didn't matter whether anyone had been wearing their seatbelts at the time.

Last weekend, on our way out to the cemetery, we three in our little Geo-car were very nearly hit head-on out in Ramsey MN. We were passing the Anoka County Fairgrounds, where a long, shallow S-curve slows the occasionally thick traffic in that part of the north metro. I was looking over my right shoulder at the Rum River, while Ron drove. I heard him yell, and I turned to see a shiny black car (a PT Cruiser I think) heading straight for us down the center of our lane. He saw us from barely three car-lengths ahead and swerved back into his own lane just in time. He was close enough that I could see his eyebrows, the color of his hair, his complexion, his hands on the wheel as he swerved. Ron braked and skidded to the shoulder, barely keeping us from hurtling into the ditch, and miraculously it seems no one was behind us. It's a thirty-mph series of curves that the other driver had taken much faster, and he had apparently forgotten about the second curve -- instead of bearing right, he just became involved in something else entirely, and drove straight into our lane. Ten minutes later I realized I still had my right hand braced against the roof of the car. Our five-year-old said "Daddy don't screech your tires like that anymore, okay?" We spent the rest of the drive out flinching at oncoming traffic. And I thought about Memorial Day Weekend, about how there are always terrible accidents that involve drunks and cars, and I wondered (I recall) what the newspapers would show that Monday. But I never checked.

Could it be that Evelyn really didn't tell anyone, all week, what had happened? She mentioned it during her sermon very matter-of-factly, as if everyone had known -- and maybe they did, I wasn't at church last weekend -- though no one mentioned it to me, which is strange too. They weren't in the prayers as I was given them for our e-newsletter. I feel badly for not knowing.

I haven't mentioned the near-miss in Ramsey to anyone either -- because it didn't happen -- in the end, there was a rush of adrenaline and the sound of brakes and rubber tires squealing -- but that was all. A yell, a gasp, and then everyone continued on without stopping, without pausing to wonder much about what almost occurred. When we got to the cemetery, I didn't sit and think about how we could have died ourselves. And when my son and I discussed death at the grave of his great-grandmother, he calmly informed me that I would die, and Daddy would die, and so would he some day. I told myself he didn't really understand what he was saying. It's easier, easier than thinking my little boy could so casually accept crushing loss and the confusion of sorrow.

So, pray for the family of the two-year-old whose organs were donated to others in need this past weekend. What's left of the family. Pray for the life and soul of the young man, age 25, who killed so many people last weekend by getting drunk and driving his pick-up too fast down the wrong road. Not long ago, another friend of the church went to visit her own nephew in jail -- a young man of similar age who killed a another driver by crashing, drunk, into the other car at nearly 60 mph. The other man was killed instantly, and the drunk nephew walked away unbruised. Now he faces the life of a convicted felon. Years ago, my best friend lost her sister and niece in a similar accident on a country road. Hit by a logging truck.

It's a mystery. How we come and how we go. Thomas Lynch, author of "The Undertaking" and several books of poetry, spends considerable time on this fact. In his work as an undertaker, following in his father's footsteps, he has seen all the ways it seems in which we leave this earth -- fast and slow, violently or quietly, in rage or in fear or in (just occasionally) our peaceful sleep. There's always "why."

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