Lately, I’ve had a lot of reasons for reflection.
I left my full-time job at the end of June. Took up residence in Munich for a few weeks in July. Explored some amazing places in Europe. Started this website. Celebrated marriages, birthdays, and actual birth-days. And lost my dear aunt to cancer.
Certainly, it has been a wild stretch in the landscape of life – full of beauty, wonder and joy, but also marked by immense grief and sorrow.
My mind drifts back to the second day of August. I was out exploring the country paths of Padirac, France, enjoying a particular peace that does not come from within as I took in my surroundings.
The sky hung low and wet. The cool kiss of mist covered the fields in a gentle morning embrace. Guided by stone walls, occasionally made invisible by the tangle of brush stretching over them, I followed the uneven footpath to an unknown destination. With the exception of the intermittent clang of bells, an indication of the grazing sheep nearby, all was quiet in the white grey shadows of sky and earth.
The thickets reached upward in a snarl of branches and thorns. Their skeletal shape framed the meadows of spindly grass and patches of exposed rock. There was a wildness to the countryside that captured my imagination. In fact, I had almost convinced myself that I had walked through a time portal from Madeleine L’Engle’s novel An Acceptable Time and would soon be greeted by a druid from pre-history.
As I ambled along the path of whimsy, I also wondered about the world and the condition of the human heart. What goes through our hearts and minds when the quiet comes? Why do we tie our worth and value to our possessions, jobs, and broken relationships? Where do we look for joy?
My mortal musings were interspersed with observing the details of my provincial setting. I studied the single-minded sheep in the pastures. I rejoiced over the abundance of wildflowers in bloom. I picked plump, juicy blackberries from the bushes bordering the stone wall.
It was a beautiful day.
My eyes close, and I am back in the present. My sweet reverie of a quiet walk in the French countryside is shattered by an everlasting heartache. My thoughts move to another wilderness that I have traversed even more recently.
“It’s a beautiful day” were my aunt’s last words.
The presence of her absence was palpable. There was a heaviness to the air inside the funeral home in the heart of downtown Atlanta, and it was as real as the fog that hung over a particular grassy meadow in France.
At 55 years old, my aunt had lost a brief and ferocious battle with a savage strain of non-smokers lung cancer – just six months after diagnosis. For the most part, we all thought the disease was treatable, beatable. Thus, we were shocked to lose our beloved so quickly and unexpectedly.
In those quiet moments – just minutes before family, friends and neighbors lined up to offer their condolences to my grandparents, mother, uncle, and cousins – the reality of death became tangible. The threat of inconsolable sadness began to swoop in from the hushed hallways, barely kept at bay by a warm and knowing hug.
Upon first glance, the richly decorated room, defined by finely woven upholstery, plush carpet, and chandeliers, would seem to have nothing in common with a meadow in France. Yet, there I was again: standing in the quiet of the wild.
Life is a precious gift – a truth I understand more deeply now, more than ever before. Not long ago, my aunt was one heart beating among a world of millions. And now, her heart beats no more. Instead she rests in the ultimate quiet. But for those of us who loved her, we remain in the wake of our wild loss. The wilderness will overwhelm us if we allow the tangled vines of grief and despair to take hold of our hearts. But, I believe, we are called to look above the thickets and thorns and set our gaze above.
So, I look upward.
What do you do, dear reader, when you find yourself alone in the quiet? When it seems like the wilderness will overtake you? Can you still see beauty? Where do you look for joy in the midst of great pain, suffering, and loss?