Saturday, May 4, 2013

Sand Sculptures

Jill and I spoke at a recent Every 15 Minutes program for Biggs High School. Well, really, Jill spoke, and I sat and tried to hold myself together.

The kids who participated in the program are the good kids. Good kids aren’t the problem. It was obvious we were preaching to the choir. 

Rachel was one of the good kids. She wouldn’t drink and drive, and she wouldn’t let her friends.

Still: she was killed by a drunk driver. 

I’ve been over it thousands of times in my mind. There was nothing Rachel could do to prevent it. She did all she could do. There was nothing I could do to save her. That night Rachel’s life was in Elva Diaz’ hands… Only Elva didn’t know it. I’m not really calloused enough to claim she wouldn’t have cared, wouldn’t have acted differently if she had known. Alcohol made her stupid and careless.

What message from Rachel’s story could we relay to a group of good kids that aren’t part of the problem? We have no assurances. We can make no promises. We were at a loss for words. 

You can prevent yourself from killing yourself or someone else by driving while intoxicated, which is sufficient reason. But there is nothing you can do to prevent a drunk driver from killing you. I’m not saying there aren’t things that can decrease the likelihood. You can stay off the road. You can stay home. But people have been killed in crosswalks, on the sidewalk, people have been killed by drunk drivers while they were sitting in their living rooms.

You can pray for protection. 

But we tried that too, and it didn’t work.

We could tell from their questions that most of the Biggs High School kids are Christians. We confessed to them our faith and our confusion, our anger and our sadness. They came up afterwards to console and encourage us. It was sweet and compassionate - a decent, human thing to do.

When Darryl Spessard shared the story of how the life of his precious daughter, Andrea, had been taken by a drunk driver with Rachel’s High School during the Every 15 Minutes event at Orland High School her Senior year, Rachel had reached out to him with compassion and sympathy. The very student that played the part that Rachel had played - the victim who dies at the hospital - came to comfort us as Rachel had done. 

Rachel was that exactly that kid. There he was, and Rachel was gone. I couldn’t help wonder what would happen to him...

We were asked what lessons we had learned. The assumption underlying the question is that there is some meaning, some greater purpose to Rachel’s death. 

What sprang to mind was Anne Lammott’s words from her book, Help, Thanks, Wow: “Any snappy explanation for suffering you come up with will be horseshit.” But that’s not what I said. 

I said something like, “I don’t want to leave the impression that everything that has emerged from Rachel’s death has been bad. We have learned some really important lessons, we have experienced some really good things, met some really wonderful people we may have not have otherwise. In many ways, we are better people than we might have been. But all these things have come at too terrible a price. We’d rather have Rachel.”

My answer was honest enough, I thought, but not too honest.

This I know: Life isn’t predictable or safe. Eventually, it will kill you.

I heard the mother of one of the victims killed by the bombing at the Boston Marathon say, “It’s such a waste.”

I know the feeling.

Since Rachel was killed I have been haunted by the fruitlessness of her life, the senselessness of her death - the tragedy, the waste of it. 

Her death was not only a waste of her life, but of mine. I don’t know if time is money - but it is life. I’m reading a book called, The Exquisite Risk, by Mark Nepo. He says, “...wealth is time, not money.” Time is the real, precious currency of our lives. 

I spent my time, my life loving Rachel, and now she is gone.

What do I have to show for it?

A sand sculpture erased by the tide. I kept the ocean to my back, forgot it was there. Perhaps I supposed this one so worthy and beautiful surely would be spared...

The question now with the tide coming in, is love a good investment?

I don’t like the way the way things turned out, but I’m still convinced time spent loving Rachel was not time wasted. I love her still. Grief is only love in distressing disguise.

I believe - and this is my belief - I’m not going to blow anyone up to prove its veracity: Time spent loving is life well spent. I believe love is never wasted.

The bargain of life and of love is death and loss. These are not unexpected contingencies. They do not and cannot present insurmountable obstacles to love. We do not cease to love because we know we will lose, anymore than we cease to live because we know we will die.

James Joyce said, “We have only this one short life in which to love.” 

The challenge of life is to find the courage to love in passing. To go, loving. To love and let go. There is no other way to love in this world. And no better way to spend whatever time we have left.