I've sat on this for more than a week now. Not knowing if I should have written it at all. But I'm learning right now that to write I must let whatever is inside me fall out. That if I don't speak with honesty, no matter what people say, then I am failing. And so, I'm going to speak out loud. And I hope it can be taken for what it is.
My cousin is dying. And when I heard of his recent downturn, my heart reached out. It’s so intangible, a heart reaching out. When I thought what to do, I wanted to write. But what could I write? This is what I wrote. It is not my story. And neither sorrow is my sorrow. So in many ways it feels wrong to write what I have written. And yet, I cannot help but think if we would only open our mouths and let what was truly inside fall out, at least the other would realize we are reaching.
In all our weakness, we are reaching.
A long time ago, my mother’s sweetheart died. He fell from the sky. He stopped breathing, ocean water drowning his lungs. He never came back. My mother was left behind with the world tipping off her shoulders. I wish I could say she always carried it well. That she didn’t make mistakes. That she didn’t mess up and make it worse. I wish I could say it was part of a powerful story arc which showed plainly – after many years – why the fall from the plane came to be. But it can’t quite be said. No matter the desire to make the circuit close smoothly.
There are others, of course, whose planes did not fall from the sky. Others who kept breathing. Others who came back, and fathered children, and bought new cars, and mowed the lawn. There are miracles and prayers heard across the continents in the midst of war. But this did not happen to my mother. Instead, a uniform came to her door and told her that her husband was dead. Instead she filled out paperwork concerned with him not coming back, ever again. Instead her father swore, over and over again, his words and actions passed down in memory, angry that this moment had come to take his daughter’s heart.
It’s strange to live a life that is a product of disaster. So many stories tell of the moment that rang through – at the very last moment – and all the wonder that came next. But my life, my father, my birth and existence, it all came at the hands of an officer delivering news of death. I’ve never thought it was my right to think about it. I didn’t know the man. He wasn’t my father. And the woman my mother was at the time has nothing to do with my mother now. But I’ve ruminated. Oh, I’ve ruminated. Even if it wasn’t my right. Even if it wasn’t my story.
I’ve ruminated on that airplane falling from the sky. I’ve ruminated on the prayers that were not answered when it blew to pieces and ceased to be. I’ve ruminated on the small disasters and heartbreaks that came in that particular death’s wake. I’ve ruminated on why and what it was all supposed to mean.
In the midst of my ruminations I have sometimes imagined that he chose. That in a strange unknowing manner he decided not to be saved. Not to keep breathing. Not to miss the fall from the sky. Did he decide to give up? To not grasp for breath? To not be the miracle that could have happened? Then, I wonder why he did that to her. Why he left her here to live this messy life alone. Who does a thing like that?
Other times, I’ve thought it had to happen. That it made my mother stand up and become, instead of following in his oh-so-certain steps. That it made her be the power she is for each of us children today. My mother recently had surgery. It was fairly routine, not much to be thought of in the scheme of things. And yet, each of her five children descended upon her hospital room, traveling from near and far, doing only a fair amount of good in the process. I thought of us there, surrounding this woman. Holiness to the mother. Holiness to the woman who pulled us through when it all hit the fan. Oh, how those ropes were pulled tight that anchored her hearts to ours. Because my mom became someone different when that plane fell out of the sky. She became someone centrally important to us.
Of course, I’ve also thought of that other life, the one that didn’t happen. The one where the two of them grew old together, the one where they improved each other – instead of living at the mercy of the world. The one where her progression and softening came at the hands of a man who loved her and stood by her side. I think of this life that didn’t happen, and the utter shamefulness that it didn’t get to be just because a plane fell from the sky.
It seems a mess, doesn’t it? It certainly doesn’t fall clearly, this disaster nestled in the center of my mother’s life. It’s not right, and yet also, it’s not wrong. It just is. The plane just fell. He just went and died. She just lived without him. We just loved her for it. And the other life just never came to be. And is there nothing more to say?
People tell me God didn’t do this. People say it’s only part of living in the world. People say that the war, or an accident, or the slam of a five-year old wind brought that plane down and destroyed my mother’s life. They say God wouldn’t do such a thing, that He wouldn’t seek her pain. And I see the message they’re carrying. Really, I do. God loves us. He wants our greatest happiness. He sent us here with agency and with all that came along with it. And generally speaking, He plays by the rules. This is why there’s pain, despite his love. The argument is sound, and I can mostly believe it.
But there’s a part of me that demands that this sweet little packaging doesn’t ring quite true. Because I still believe that there was something in God that threw that plane out of the sky. His eye on the sparrow, and yet He let it fall. He let it fall and break against the ocean waves. And He didn’t get the Navy seals there in quick enough time. He didn’t offer the breath of life. He didn’t throw the second chance, a life-saving ring around a sinking body. He let it end. He let the heart stop and He let it decompose right there in all that salt with the rest of a dead man’s body.
And He meant what He did.
All I can think, when it comes to this, this failure of His to make it come out right, is that He must have stood there, in the raging storm that followed , and He must have said, I am the one you are supposed to love anyway. Because we don’t get to keep it all. It isn’t ours anyhow. And somehow, after all this time, and all this ruminating, for me, that is the point.