Bad is almost always coupled with Good. Bad can be crushing. But within it, when we are able to see and feel, we invariably find pockets of hope, rays of light, stores of benevolence. We find exceptional people trying hard, being kind, showing faith. We notice children smiling, oblivious and silly, bringing flashes of delight. We experience surprising, heartening moments of peace.
Four different recent events have brought to these certainties to mind. Today I will tell you the first, the most heart-wrenching. It hit me hard.
When my son Lincoln was almost a year old, the Walls moved to town. Crissie and Brian had three children then, the youngest being Lincoln’s special buddy Micah. This grainy old photo shows these two happy boys on one of our camping trips.
Lincoln and Micah were peanut butter and jelly, always together, as dirty, happy and carefree as one-year-olds, then two-year-olds, then three-year-olds should be. The kids your kids grow up with – the ones they roast marshmallows with, build sandcastles with, share sticks with – these kids have a forever-place in your heart.
Friends like Chris Wall don’t come along every day either. Crissie made me laugh, made me think, modeled genuine kindness, gentleness, humor, respect and graciousness in ways I had never seen, ways I wanted to emulate. She made me consider my actions, my motivations, my future. Things didn’t have to be perfect (or perfectly neat and orderly) – and that was a new concept for me. Amidst mess there was beauty. By mess I mean lots happening at the same time and therefore a few things out of place. By beauty I mean deep and abiding love for her family, a tender heart of gold, a willing and humble spirit. I was grateful to immerse in her world. She became one of the dearest friends I have.
I knew from our conversations over the last few years that Micah was having a battle with substance use addiction. I don’t use Facebook much, and missed the message the day it appeared on Crissie’s page, but Kim didn’t. Imagine the moment I got her text. “Just heard about Micah. So very heart breaking.” The outpouring of love and support evident on that page following Micah’s lost battle is both continual and astounding. Clearly the Walls are not alone. But I bet sometimes they feel it. I know they fought hard, I know they gave him all the help they possibly could. There can be nothing on earth like losing a child. I have known the loss of a sister and the loss of my father, but not the loss of a child. I cannot imagine the hole in their hearts.
Chris and Brian, Katie, Stephen and Nathan, my words feel inadequate, empty, fleeting, like a bunch of symbols suggesting a vaguely recognizable idea. But my heart bleeds with yours, my tears commingle, my prayers beseech, my hugs reach out across the miles. It’s not enough, I know it’s not enough. Nothing I or anyone can do will fill the Micah-size hole.
I don’t know what their days look like, how much they need to talk or need to be quiet, how fervently they pray, how deeply they ache. I can hope, only hope, that they will find and rest in rays of light, patchy as the light may be. I can hope that the world will be gentle in the upcoming days, that their faith remains strong, that unexpected kindness knocks on their door. I can hope they will see smiling children being oblivious and silly, and feel surprising, heartening moments of peace. I can hope they will allow themselves to be “in ebb” for a while.
Before today, I’d never heard ebb used this way but I like it. “Just chilling,” is the way I heard it. “Ebbing.” Usually ebb refers to the part of the tide cycle when the water is washing back toward the sea, the necessary receding before the inevitably rebuilt wave comes again toward its crash on the shore. You could make a case for ebb being the low point in an oscillation cycle or, more generally, the pause before the energy, the rest before the push, the passive in preparation for the active. We all need that sometimes. We all need to not push, to just be. Especially when we’ve been pushing for a long time.
How do we walk alongside people who have such a big hole in their hearts? How do we love those who are far away? How do we show we are tasting the salt of the tears they cry? Even if you do not know the answers to these questions, even if you think your way is insignificant, remember the words of Edward Everett Hale:
‘I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.’
I hope the rest of us will use the salt of tears to spur us on to do the thing we can do, even if it is only something and not everything, even if it seems minor or unrelated or unimportant, even if it is something else. Like bringing flowers to a shut-in neighbor. Like volunteering to do the harder thing. Like giving up your place for someone less mobile or sending a check to a worthwhile cause. Today I saw this poster. It’s about kids, but the ideas can apply to almost anyone.
So simple. You have your own style, your own way. Maybe today, don’t just think about whatever it is you could do. Maybe instead, do it.