Note: This post was inspired by a similarly-themed column published in Bill Bryson's hysterical book, "Notes from a Big Country." Thanks, Bill!
The Bridge Jump (a tale passed onto me from my friend Mike)
I went to university in Idaho. Nobody outside of the Pacific Northwest of the United States knows where Idaho is (and even then, people can be foggy on the exact location). Upon arrival I was told that Idaho is comprised of two parts: the northern, green, forested part teeming with white supremacists (!), and the southern, brown, tumbleweed-ridden part in which my university is located.
Thankfully there was more to southern Idaho than that (not much, but some), and one thing that we university students did when the weather was warm was go bridge-jumping at a nearby river.
One warm afternoon, a poor, nervous lad made his way down the side of the bridge to the narrow landing from which he and his friends were to jump into the river below. The drop was greater than he expected, so it took him several minutes of hemming and hawing and his friends' encouraging before he finally got up the nerve to jump. At that critical moment, he made the leap. And as he did, his friends noticed in horror that a large object was floating down the river and would be intercepted by their friend precisely when he made landing.
The large object was the corpse of a dead cow (!)
Gravity of course is real and unflinching even if situations like this. So Poor Laddy continued to plummet down, unable to change velocity or direction, and fell straight through the bloated, blessedly squishy and soft and thus not lethal body of the dearly departed Moo Mama.
Laddy survived, thankfully. But I would venture to say he never jumped again.
One fall morning, I woke up early to take our dog for a much needed walk in the neighbourhood. It was dark and cold for the thirty minutes or so we rambled, and I was glad to return to our warm home at the end of it. When I came in, I saw my oldest two children (then 7 and 5) sitting on the couch watching cartoons, but could not find my 15-months-old youngest son.
"Where's Ephraim?" I asked the two boys.
"I don't know," the oldest one answered, his eyes and his brothers' glued to the television set.
I went into the bathroom where my husband was just getting out of the shower.
"Where's Ephraim?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" he replied with slight alarm.
"I can't find him," I said.
We looked at each other for a few silent seconds before Matt scrambled to get clothes on and I left to do one final check under the beds and tables and inside the closets of our tiny attic suite.
No Ephraim. Matt and I opened the door, went down our steep flight of stairs, and went opposite directions down our street, calling his name as we ran.
As I approached the park at the end of our block, I saw a tiny figure in a t-shirt and a diaper peeking out from behind a bush. It was my son, of course. I ran towards him and he ran towards me, laughing and excited to be "found" and so unbelievably unafraid and unbothered by the cold.
I kissed his little cheeks and warmed his feet in my hands while chiding him for running away. Then we went to find his dad and returned back to our house. We still don't know how long he was alone at the park, but our guess was anywhere between ten and twenty minutes.
That is life with my third son in a nutshell. Always on the edge of panic while he rushes headlong into the next big adventure. Now that he's older and his impulsiveness has mellowed, some of the beauty of his fearlessness has been revealed. In fact, I often wish I could take a smidge of it for myself.
January 2005. Matt and I have looked through our bills and our bank statements and realized that we just don't have enough money for me to make it through another semester of grad school. When we go our separate ways, he to put our son to bed and me to clean up from dinner, I shoot a quick prayer up to God.
"Lord, if you want me to stay in this you're going to have to do something to make it clear. Because we can't do it on our own."
The next day an older friend stopped by with a belated birthday present for our one-year-old son. Isaac opened the present, throwing the tissue paper around the room and excitedly removing the actual gift. I thanked my friend for her thoughtfulness and she replied kindly but still sat there, smiling, as if waiting for something else to happen. I was tired and unfocused, so I thanked her again for the present and we chatted until she left.
I put Isaac down for his nap and went to clean up the living room, including the gift bag. Only then did I notice a card inside that I had failed to see before and thus left unopened.
When I slipped the card out of the envelope, a cheque floated down onto my lap. I picked it up and when I saw the number, my stomach dropped.
$500.00. Five-HUNDRED dollars.
In a note also enclosed, my friend explained that after the recent death of her parent, she and her husband had received a small inheritance. They had prayed about which people or charitable organizations to give the money to, and Matt and I kept coming to their minds.
I started to cry (I swear I don't cry all the time, even if my posts seem to indicate otherwise). I had asked for God to do something about our financial shortfall and, believe what you will about the timing, a cheque was in my hands within 24 hours. The next day I wrote a thank you note and told my friend about my evening-before prayer. And I stayed in grad school, graduating two years later with a Master's degree, two babies, and no debt from that degree whatsoever.
יהוה יראה (the Lord provides)
A month after my father died in 2005, my sister called me.
"I'm pregnant," she declared.
"You're what?" I asked in astonishment. Her daughter was only eight months old at the time, and as I had managed (gratefully) to remain unpregnant for the 13 months following the birth of my son I assumed she would like to have some non-pregnant time as well.
"I'm pregnant!" she said more loudly. "And I don't know how! I swear this is an Immaculate Conception kind of thing."
I wanted to ask more questions but she was in a bit of a fury and said she had more calls to make. I got off the phone, thanking my lucky stars that it was her and not me.
Two months later, as I have written about before, I found out that I was pregnant as well.
Let us fast forward to the strange part of all of this (besides the aforementioned Immaculate Conception of my nephew).
When you are in your first year of mourning for a loved one, there are several days that are bitter and brutal and that you just need to make it through: The first month anniversary of their death. Then the second. The sixth month anniversary that kicks you in the gut and the yearly anniversary that wallops you in the teeth (that anniversary is called yahrzeit in Yiddish, as our Jewish brothers and sisters have the good sense to have a proper name for that horrible day). The first anniversary of marriage sans loved one is hard for the spouse; the first birthday without them is hard for everyone. The yahrzeit is agony, and there's no good way of getting around it.
A little consolation on these days is always welcome. A little extra joy is a stark and life-giving contrast to the months and days cut deeply by the sharp, unrelenting force of loss.
So imagine, if you will, the consolation of welcoming my nephew into the world two days before what would have been my dad's first birthday away from this world.
Imagine, if you will, the consolation of welcoming my son into the world a week and a half before what would have been my dad's first yahrzeit.
And imagine, if you will, the consolation of both of these events being completely unplanned, completely unexpected, completely "wrecking" the timing of so many things and yet resting as a balm on our family's broken hearts when a balm was just what we needed. Because that, of course, is what their births were.
A blessing for you, and for me:
May hope catch you unawares,
May consolation bleed through the breaking of your best laid plans,
May laughter lift you from fear,
May God provide.