Friday, November 20, 2009

Last November

At this time last year, we were on the road. We had to move Joey's anthropomorphic VW bus, fondly known as "Gunther", out from a storage facility in L.A., where it had been languishing for six months, for lack of a better plan. We decided to drive Gunther cross country to its new home, and hopefully new term of service, with our grandchildren in Virginia Beach. It was stuffed full of Joey's life--his chair, his guitars, his backpack and ski gear, and his ashes. We had fears that Gunther couldn't make the trip, but Rachel reassured us that this dented, but sturdy VW was road-hardened from traveling round the Northern Hemisphere and would not fail us. And she was right. We made the long journey without mechanical incident, and arrived safely at our destination the day before Thanksgiving, just as planned.

At that time, my chest cavity was still filled to the top with leaden boulders of grief. I barely breathed. I lived in a heavy fog of shock and confusion, and could hardly think, move, plan or execute. I had no capacity for pressure or stress. I was in excruciating, heretofore unimagined pain, and each day was necessarily basic, simple and uncomplicated. It was as if all my bones were broken and I dared not move anything for fear of the pain it would unleash.

Gunther's gear shift knob and funky rastifarian foot pedals, just as Joey and Rachel found them when they bought it.

The sorrowful but necessary trip turned out to be an unanticipated blessing. It was hard leaving the safety of our home in Maui to go back to L.A., the scene of so much devastating loss. But as we drove away from L.A. out into the wide expanses of the West, away from people and cities and buildings, over rugged mountains, through long green valleys, peering down into paintbox canyons covered with rocks and trees, we began to lose our fear of the road and of change. We soon found we relished the start of each day's drive, sitting in the refuge of our son's van, experiencing some of what Joey and Rachel lived when they took a similar trip the year before; and particularly soothing for us: the peace of miles of solitude that stretched before us with no responsibilities except to fill the gas tank.

We had a modest time table, and so we could take each day as it came, making time to stop and smell and listen and feel the changing season as we moved east. One Sunday morning near the end of our trip, we had an especially magical drive through the Smoky Mountains. There were few other cars on the road at 7 a.m. , and the light was different--so clear, shimmering with life, so quiet you could hear it, so peaceful our raw nerve endings settled into a purr. And the peace touched our ragged souls, both of us, deeply, maybe for the first time since Joey left. We listened to worship music and let it soak into us as we drove wordlessly, through the most beautiful cathedral of them all. The trees spired high over our heads, and the most incredible blue sky sat straight above us, peeking in and out of the trees. It was a holy moment. It was one of those moments when you know there is something more personal and powerful and mystical to the universe than what we've pieced together so far.

My little camera could not do it justice, but these pictures will give you the idea.

We drove in a sacred hush, quieted by the beauty outside our windows. I was beginning to realize that nature could comfort me in a deeper way than anything else and more than I thought possible. No words, no music, no person, could give me the internal balm that the beauty of nature gave me.

I will admit I was suspicious of that. I have been trained to worship the Creator, not the creation. When our pastor recently taught on the book of Job, I got a new perspective. I've now concluded that at times of deep suffering, we can't see or hear the Creator. When Job's torrent of pain and confusion finally poured forth in despair and frustration, he got smack into God's face with his questions. And God smacked right back-- not with answers, but with his own set of questions: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"

Four chapters later, God's basic response to Job is "look at what I've made--look at Nature". It doesn't tell us "why", but it does declare the greatness of God and that He is big enough for all that we doubt. That makes sense to me and has freed me to do what I had already been doing, finding solace in the beauty of nature.

It was the most memorable segment of our 5000 mile trip, and it was the start of a turning point in our lives. We emerged from the mountain passes into the wide, grassy valleys below.

We had planned to stay with our daughters just through the holidays, but while we were there, we made the decision to pack up our own previously idyllic island life and move to Virginia. People are usually surprised by this and ask how we could do it. Simple. We couldn't bear any more separation from our beloved children. It was already too much that Joey was gone. And so began a new beginning...

A year later we know it was the right decision. Everything has changed, nothing is the same, yet we are surviving. We feel less heaviness. We shed fewer tears. We are settling in. We miss our son endlessly, and yet we are slowly trusting the Maker of it all that there is a bigger plan.


Jennifer Stumpf said...

i love this story so much. thank you for sharing...
jennifer xo

Anonymous said...

What an amazing story. I want to print it so I can reread it without
tears. I loved the background music. I sure makes the story powerful. Love You guys. Sharon

Anonymous said...

During tough times I have always found humbling solace in the of beauty of God's creation. I can remember when Steve and I first learned of Joey's passing, the very next morning we headed up the San Bernardino Mountains silently winding up the twisting road. We were mentally and literally in a grey quite morning mist, something that I thought that was unusually appropriate. we even played our IZ cd from Maui and both cried at Loved by you remembering how blessed we were to have Joey sing at our beautiful ceremony that we all shared together. The music was our attempt at solace among the beauty of God's natural majestic peacefulness but just could not console our heavily empty hearts. We drove in silence for a while and we turned the corner to the other side of the face of the mountain into the beautiful sunshine bright and sunny. as we looked out to our side we saw the heavy layer of mist we had just passed through. It was very powerful! We knew it was like a natural majestic message from God. It was pretty cool, even in the heaviness of our hearts in the misty drive he was there all along shining above us waiting for us to turn the corner. I have seen in my drives up the pacific northwest at the mount shasta the heavy grayness on one side covered in clouds just to drive a little further and see the sunshine and blue skies right on the other side. I think i took a picture, i am sure it didn't do it justice. It's just God's awesome way of comforting us. We often go to the mountains for peace. Thank you for sharing yourselves with us. We love you and just wanted to share this with you. Jackie

Liza on Maui said...

It's lovingly amazing how God's creation is used by HIm to provide healing and comfort.... We were saddened by your move to Virginia, and yet we know that that's exactly where you are supposed to be. Love you all.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing that.

Anonymous said...

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
(Psalm 139:7,9-12)

Gannet Girl said...

This is a beautiful, beautiful post -- words, pictures, and all the thoughtfulness that lies behind it.

It makes me sorry all over again that we sold Josh's car -- although the farthest he ever drove it was from Chicago to Cleveland and back, I had a vague fantasy of driving it to the west coast, for him and for me. Now I think maybe I will take a very very long drive this summer -- such a journey does seem to hold more healing possibilities than anything else.

Anonymous said...

The processing of time is timely. It goes too fast when we don't want it to and it moves too slow when we want it to move fast. I'm supposing it moves in slow motion after something like what you've been through. Everything now happens in a super state of awareness. That must be exhausting. Big hugs Karen.

Gberger said...

Thank you very much for this. I have also found great comfort in creation/nature, which is sometimes called God's First Bible.
God is always present, but sometimes hidden...and mainly seems to be hidden by my own foibles. Nature is a great gift of God, always, but especially when words and ideas fail.
Sending love to you.