Friday was a stunning day and a wonderful ending to a brutal week. The first part of the week was cold and windy with a dusting of snow. Snow before Thanksgiving does not leave much hope for a mild Tennessee winter. Next week starts the stressful holiday season with Thanksgiving and I can feel the first prickles of dread begin to form. When the weather is mild it is easy to forget winter is around the corner. I force myself to put down my to do list and walk outside. The lake calls out to me, beckoning me for a visit. It has been a long time since I have sat at its shoreline. I grab my camera and hike the short distance, recalling a time when I walked this journey on a daily basis.
There was a time that I hated this lake with such fierceness, I wanted to put our house up for sale. I could not bear the thought of looking upon it everyday. There is no doubt it is beautiful, but it is also deadly. It can lure a person into its cool depths on a hot summer night when the moon is full, and then use its dangerous current to pull one under. Yes this lake is a killer and it took my oldest child.
This Friday visit reminds me of the first time I ventured out to this spot. I reminisce as I take in the spectacular view. The lake was like glass, like that day five years ago, a few months after the memorial service when everyone expected us to be normal again. I tried, until one day it was impossible to keep up the facade any longer. The rawness of the rage I was feeling scared me, and I needed to find a place away from those I love. They have suffered enough and they should not witness my breakdown. The lake was far enough away, yet close enough to my other children. And besides that, it was a perfect target for my rage.
On that first hike, I was robotic, stiff and brittle. I unceremoniously set up my small camp chair and turned to the lake. It was smooth as a mirror and reflected the landscape. Its beauty angered me and pushed me over the edge. I cursed it and its creator. I threw rocks until my arm ached and I sobbed until I was exhausted. I collapsed in the chair, numb. I remember saying in a hoarse whisper, words barely audible, “You failed me, your nothing to me. Where is your glory?” I cringe now at the memory. I was broken into a million pieces. I don’t remember how long I sat there, weighed down from the heaviness of my grief. I could not gather the strength to walk back home and I could not even think about moving forward from this point. I realize the passing of time as the sun began to set. It turned the landscape into a golden hue of yellow and orange. It became so still, as if the world was put under a spell. I scarcely breathed; afraid that if I exhaled the spell would be broken. Ah yes, he was showing me his glory.
I then noticed the upside down world reflected in the lake. I felt like I could just jump into that other world and all this pain would be left behind. I started to imagine what it would be like on the other side. I imagined myself on its bank looking at this world, and I wonder if I would have remembered what it was like over here. Would I remember this pain? Would I see my family there, mourning? That thought jolted me out of my trance and I stood searching the other world’s banks for a glimpse of my boy. I could imagine him there, watching me fall apart and that shook me out of my pity. His death was his story, not the ending of mine. I opened up and allowed God to fill the emptiness that was at my center. This would be his glory, my survival.
The shoreline became my battleground. I fought the great sadness there with my wildlife champions. I drew strength from their sightings and began to feel like I belong there with them. I became familiar their routines. I knew when the herons would come to roost; I could set my watch by it. I had fish jump so high that I actually felt the splash. I watched snakes slither by and a snapping turtle whose head was as big as my foot. Majestic eagles and osprey would bring the whole community of wildlife to a standstill. And as soon as they flew on, the chatter would begin again. Once when I was weary, an otter came to visit. It gave me the strength to fight one more battle. The stronger I became as I healed from my heart ache, the more the place became a safe sanctuary instead of a battle field. It became my personal church, a place that I was safe to transform. I did not have to pretend here. God could handle my rage, my tears and he longed for my laughter.
This is my fifth autumn without my son and I don’t feel the need to visit the lake as much as I use to. But when it called out to me, I could not resist the pull. And it was beautiful. Just like that day long ago. I look at that upside down world and I smile, I can imagine him there, watching me proudly. Then the tears spring to my eyes as I also remember the sorrow. That is the way it is with joy and sorrow. They walk together. Dance a dance that is beautiful and painful from one moment to another. I can bask in the peace of that joy. I can let it expanded inside my chest and spread to the dark corners of my soul. The pure bliss of it makes me want to reach for the sky and say “Thank You Lord”. And when I take that leap to try to soar, I crash to the ground, because sorrow still has me tethered. And so the dance goes, but each year I feel more confident that one day I will fly.
As the light fades, so does the upside down world. I feel a little lighter on the walk home, a little stronger, like it is possible to face the holidays. I can and I will, because I have experienced the glory of God.