Our visit in Vermont was wonderful; it is a gloriously beautiful and peaceful place, and our visit with friends was delightful.
Of course, those few days off allowed quite a bit to pile up here at home, and a group of young folks arrived shortly after our return. The next few days were filled with cooking and getting-to-know-you conversations, work in the garden and several late-night attempts to keep up with the paperwork.
The group has now departed, the paperwork is under control, the garden produce is beginning to roll in and our summer is in full swing, never mind the calendar.
The settled feeling of routine was shattered Sunday afternoon when we learned that a dear friend, Bishop Jim Kelsey of Northern Michigan, had died in a highway accident. The initial numbness has yet to wear off completely, which I think is a mercy designed into and tailored for the human species. It gives us some breathing room to deal with details, if necessary, before the hard work of grieving sets in.
Those of us with no details to attend to wander through these early days in something of a haze. Occasionally the reality of the loss surfaces with sharp clarity, slowly prying open the door of sorrow.
Death is a strange duck in the zoo of human experiences. For awhile we are convinced, against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that this must be a mistake. He’s not really dead; they must have gotten the report confused. It wasn’t really him; it was someone else.
Once the veneer of denial wears thin, we find ourselves hanging on questions with no answers: where is he now? how will we live without him? why did this happen? what could I have done to prevent this disaster?
And finally, when even those nagging and painful questions fall away, we grieve. There was no mistake. There is nowhere to go to get away from the truth and the reality and the finality—Jim is no longer of this Earth. We will not look into his lively eyes, or hear his cheerful voice, or feel his comforting touch again. Not in this life.
All we can do now is wait it out. Grief will be our unwelcome companion for some time to come. We’ll be able to laugh in the middle of it—that’s one of the oddities of death—and eventually we will be able to greet a new day with joy once more.
It wasn’t just Jim who died; a part of each of us is gone forever, too. In the end, those empty, wounded, lost places will begin to fill with the scar tissue of memory. Bodies—all of them—must eventually step into the great transformative journey, but the person, the being who danced for awhile alongside each of us, lives on in those beautiful memories.
What we learned from Jim, we will still know.