I was away this weekend. Really away. My family and I joined a wonderful group of homeschoolers from Lifelong Educational Opportunities on a history field trip to Andersonville National Historic Site and the Civil War Naval Museum. We spent a couple of days in the Providence Canyon/Florence Marina State Parks, enjoying nature and time with friends. It seems so unusual these days to go anyplace where you are completely out of touch with the rest of the world. And as our time in the canyon commenced, it felt like the perfect complement to Lent…time away in peaceful contemplation. Ahhh, the calm that seems to come from that little message in the corner of my phone: “Searching…No Service.”
When we crested a hill during our hike, however, I heard the tell-tale buzzing that alerted me to a missed call and voicemail from a high school friend that I rarely hear from. The message said that he had seen something on Facebook about another friend of ours and he wanted to know if I knew anything. And then I saw his text moments later asking me to call ASAP. I knew immediately that I needed to find a way to get in touch with him. I texted him back, knowing that a text would eventually find its way out even with the single bar of service that intermittently appeared. “In a canyon, bad phone service, I don’t know what is going on either. Leave a msg if you find out.”
The next thing I saw, well, I can’t describe how I felt, how I am still feeling. He texted me back that our friend’s husband had died. He didn’t know any details. I told him I would call as soon as I could. We talked briefly later as I managed to get the single bar of cell coverage to hold for a couple of minutes. He only knew that death had been sudden and that they were still trying to figure out what had happened. As we said our goodbyes, I tried to get word through to my friend, knowing that a phone conversation wasn’t going to work because the signal wouldn’t last. And this was not a conversation I wanted to have interspersed with the ever-frustrating “can you hear me now?” I texted her a quick message of love to let her know that I was thinking of her. It seemed woefully inadequate. But even as I sent it, my phone flashed up, “Searching…No Service.”
I made the three hour drive back today, plenty of time to think about the change this has wrought in the lives of my friend and her family. She and her husband were two of the happiest, most in-love people I have ever known. My heart aches for them. For her.
After years as practicing Lutherans, we’ve been worshiping with the Episcopals for some time now. One of the things that I could never understand theologically was their Prayers for the Dead. Once you have died, you are in God’s hands. All shall be well, right? But for some reason today, I took comfort in this notion of praying for the dead. Not because I feel that lives get stuck in purgatory and need to be prayed out, but because somehow that prayer seems to be an expression of our hope that life still IS after death, that it is still happening, going, living. I spent those three hours in the car with unchecked tears slowly rolling down my cheeks, praying for my friend, for their daughter. And I prayed for her dear, smiling, laughing, loving, witty husband.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Truth is that the blessing comes from having loved so deeply that the loss permeates the soul. The greater the love, the greater the blessing. The greater the love, the greater the loss.
I pray tonight in the midst of all the loss and mourning and pain and grief that the Comforter will come.