Shortly after Rachel was killed we had an encounter with a book called 90 Minutes In Heaven by Don Piper. He was pronounced dead at the scene of a traffic collision and visited heaven before he was restored to his body in this world.We were given the book by some friends who had lost their son about 10 years ago now. Just after we read the book, we heard that the author was scheduled to give a presentation in Chico on Easter Sunday. It seemed like a divine appointment, so Jill and I went with Erik and Rachel’s boyfriend Jeff. Easter was a hard day, coming as it did so soon after Rachel’s passing, but the talk was hopeful. There were many things I brought home that night that have helped me through this difficult, but hearing of the miraculous work of God in Don’s life that enabled him to be there that night made us all wonder why there was no miracle for Rachel, or for us...But I know that Don would say life in God’s presence is not second best.
Anyway, the other day I had a small breakthrough, and I have been feeling better the last few days. I had written my friend Ray about it, and sent him a quote I had read in The Sun Magazine about living with the awareness that everything and everyone is “already broken.” The writers, Stephen & Ondrea Levine (from Who Dies?) relates the story of a spiritual teacher taking the breaking of a drinking glass in stride. His reaction to the breaking of the glass is “Of course!” It is inevitable that a glass will eventually break, and so we should not be surprised or distressed when it happens. We should use that awareness to heighten our appreciation of the glass. Similarly, we all know humans are not built to last. We and our love ones will pass from this life, and the wise thing to do is come to grips with this fact and live our lives accordingly.
“If we lived our lives as though we were already dead, how much time would there be for self protection and the re-creation of ancient mirages? Only love would be appropriate, only truth.”
They are beautiful words. I acknowledged the truth of them, and I was immediately tested.
I wake Erik up every morning at 6:00 to get ready for school. I generally tap lightly on his door, and he wakes right up - he is a pretty light sleeper and a relatively early riser (for a teen-ager). Monday morning he didn’t respond when I knocked on his door. I knocked again. I knocked again, louder. When there was still no response I opened the door and called his name. I turned the light on dimly and called again. I turned the light on full brightness and yelled his name. I could see his form motionless under his blanket. I was trying to see if there was any movement at all. I couldn’t tell. I started to get light-headed and weak. I couldn’t believe this was happening. How could a perfectly healthy young man wake up dead? How was I going to tell Jill? I stared into the abyss. I was right on the edge. I was afraid to touch him. If he didn’t respond, then I would really have to face the fact that he was dead. I shook him and called his name. He woke up with a smile on his face. He had no idea I was standing at the gates of hell.
To see him respond was such a relief I almost fell to the floor. My heart hurt and I felt weak all day.
Some parents do wake up and find their children have passed in the night. But it isn’t normally the first possibility that enters your mind when your teenager fails to wake up at first knock in the morning on a school day. But that is where our heads are at now. Our confidence in the predictability and safety of the routine is gone. Children can walk out the door and never come back; children can go to sleep and not wake in this world. The worst thing can happen, and it can happen again and again. There is no immunity. There is no security. The horrors that pass through your mind cannot not be ignored: they are real possibilities.
All I can tell you is that the breaking of a glass is not the same as the breaking of a child. Yes, they are both impermanent things in this world as it is. But a human being is many orders of magnitude more precious, and I cannot imagine accepting the loss with equanimity - even if I wanted to. There is wisdom in living with the constant awareness that now is all we have, that life is short and no amount of love is ever enough. But when your child is shattered by the blunt force trauma of a collision with an SUV piloted by an intoxicated driver or simply fails to wake up one morning, there is no denying or escaping the living hell that awaits you. I want to be a noble-minded philosopher, but I have a daddy’s heart.