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Iris in the Woods

March 13, 2012

“I hope I go first,” she used to say. “I don’t want to be left here without you.” “No I do,” I would protest. “I don’t want to be an old man left without a partner.” Of course at the time we had no idea what we were saying. We were both picturing ourselves as octogenarians saying goodbye to a long life lived and a bevy of grandchildren.

Several years later, who would’ve thought I would be walking away from her gravesite muttering the words “I miss you so much, but if it had to be one of us, I’m glad you are in heaven. I am glad it’s me here left to figure out life alone and not you.”

So frequently I find myself shaking my head in disbelief at where my life is. I simply struggle to accept the fact that I am a single father of three young kids, living a life which was almost entirely unplanned. I am a planner. I have worked hard my whole life to design and implement a life which would be safe and comfortable and easy enough. How could I end up here?

In Wendell Berry’s book, Jaber Crow, the protagonist remarks:

“But I feel that I have lived on the edge even of my own life. I have made plans enough, but I see now that I have never lived by plan. Any more than if I had been a bystander watching me live my life. I don’t feel that I ever have been quite sure what was going on. Nearly everything that has happened to me has happened by surprise. All the important things have happened by surprise. And whatever has been happening usually has already happened before I have had time to expect it. The world doesn’t stop because you are in love or in mourning or in need of time to think. And so when I have thought I was in my story or in charge of it, I really have been only on the edge of it, carried along. Is this because we are in an eternal story that is happening partly in time?”

Ultimately, we all must face the realization that we are not in control. We are all subject to a infinite number of external factors including: the time, country and family we were born into, genetics, the economy, the weather, the actions of a boss, friend, or family member, and eventually, our own mortality. We are not the playwright. We are merely players and though we think we own our own stories, there are many moments in life when we know we can not even say that.

And then there are moments when we sense what Jaber questions in the last line of his quote: “Is this because we are in an eternal story that is happening partly in time?” This can occur as we walk through the woods alone, or sit by a beach, or look at the stars in the sky. For me I sense this when I look at historical photos. I see lively faces of people and stories and families that have long since passed away. We sense this when we travel and see different cultures and ways of doing things. Our lives are so small from this vantage point. And there is something wonderfully satisfying about this.

Deep down I think we are okay with the fact that we are not in charge. However, the degree to which this is true hinges on the question, “can I trust the playwright?” If the answer is “yes” then we are content to be a part of his eternal story. If the answer is “no” because he is either asleep at the wheel, incapable or apathetic, then we are in trouble and have reason to be anxious.

Even as I muttered those words at the cemetery I could sense that my heart was not right. When I looked closely, there was an undercurrent of complaint, of frustration with the struggle of life. “But this life is more than struggle,” I reasoned with myself. As soon as I thought that, on the edge of the woods I saw a few wild iris flowers in bloom, and they reminded me of the life which is still here, despite Sydney’s death.

Then I came home to three lively children, each with their own precious personalities and idiosyncrasies. I sat on the porch in the sunshine and read and thanked God for his incredible blessings, including his perfect wisdom, which for reasons unknown yet to me, kept me here, while Sydney went to heaven.

From → Stories

  1. sharon cooke permalink

    Todd, you may like the poem “The Blue Flag in the Bog” by Edna St Vincent Millay. Ever your teacher#canthelpitPaideialives

  2. Sadee permalink

    Praying for you today. Thanks for writing.

  3. Wortley Whitehead permalink

    Followers of Christ take the inconveniences of life — and make them into instruments to love. ~ Anne Voskamp

    This blog is an instrument of love, thank you Todd.

  4. So beautiful Todd, as usual. Thank you for your willingness to keep an open heart down such a road of loss and grief. It has taken me almost 6 months to listen to Oh Happy Day because when we sang it at her funeral, I was so confused. I understood her choice of song on a cognitive level but my heart could not get there. So, I sang through my tears. Now, I get it. I get why she wanted it as part of her home coming. She wouldn’t have chosen to leave us, I know that. But she was turning toward her new future with hope and joy.

    I wish she was still here for you and the kids. And yet like you, am glad she is free from all that bound her here. i just wish both could be true today.

    Praying as you walk along this path. 🙂

    Thank you.

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