Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Sunny Day, A Quiet Afternoon, An Empty Chair

This is the view of our front porch just now. So normal. So American. It was a brilliantly sunny afternoon, after almost a week of rather typical Southern California spring coastal gloom. The sun is still streaming in the back porch french doors just now, as I write this.

It has been a quiet afternoon on our street. The jack-hammering of construction work at the neighbors house yesterday has been broken by the calm of this still semi-sacred day in a secular culture. Everything around here has begun to burst with spring green. It was a good day for lunch with a friend on a sunny patio, a walk with the dog, or even a brief nap.

But in our town, beneath the veneer of a calm spring Sunday afternoon, something very sudden, scary, and painfully dark has happened. Like the thud of a 1,000 pound weight, or the shock of a violent traffic accident that no one expects; leaving a hole in our emotions that words cannot describe or fill back up. Its like the black of night.

There will be an empty chair tomorrow at the Middle School in our town. An 8th grade girl, who was in the joyous chorus of the school play just last night, has suddenly died. As we broke this tragic news to our own 6th grader this afternoon, our kitchen was hushed with shock, then grief, of loss, and weeping. Tomorrow, there will be special counseling for kids at school.

And there will be an empty chair.

The details of how she died are not important really, but it was a sudden, unexpected seizure. I find that I always want to know what happened. Its a way to cope with my own mortality. Its also a form of selfishness. What is important is the deep, dark, piercing, almost bottomless grief the family of this girl will feel. As a parent, this must be a pain inexpressible, seemingly unquenchable, almost limitless. And it never really goes completely away. It is always there, like a shadow companion.

I have nothing to offer but my prayers for a family I do not know, but whom my wife has met on several occasions. Nothing to say that will alleviate the searing pain. Nothing here, on this earth, that will calm so many troubled hearts.

But, I am reminded of a similar story full of pain. From Rossini's "Stabat Mater":

Her grieving heart,

anguished and lamenting,

was pierced by a sword.

Oh how sad and afflicted

was that blessed mother

of an Only Son.

She mourned and grieved,

and trembled as she saw

the suffering of her glorious Son.

And if you will, particularly parents who read this, take a moment to offer prayers of peace and healing for this family.

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