In the Quiet
In moments of quiet remembrance, as joy and sorrow mingle, we begin to realize that so much of our busyness is rooted in a fear of what we might encounter in silence. Here, Becky Allender writes about a recent weekend of quiet, memory, and the simultaneous presence of death and resurrection. This post originally appeared on Red Tent Living.
My husband has not been able to quit listening to Tracy Chapman’s greatest hits album. Last night he got into bed with his computer loudly playing each song. I left our bed and retreated to our closet chair to read what I have not been able to quit reading since it arrived on our doorstep. I was equally caught in my own isolated anguish, mesmerized by each sentence September Vaudrey writes in her book, Colors of Goodbye.
It is a heartbreaking story about the Vaudreys’ middle child, who was in a traffic accident while driving to her first day of work on a summer day. We both fell to sleep after midnight in our own isolated sorrow.
We awoke at different times on Palm Sunday and picked up where we had left off the night before. We had previously decided that we would stay home on this favorite holiday of mine. Yes, I love the waving of palm branches. It must be my ‘60s identity of wearing flowers in my hair and walking down High Street on Ohio State’s campus as a high school senior. I love parading behind Jesus on a donkey. I love the parade, whatever the weather or date. Memories of my grandchildren, children, and myself flow through waves in my mind from Columbus, Boca Raton, Winona Lake, Littleton, and Bainbridge Island. However, this Palm Sunday my husband knew his body needed rest, and I knew going alone would be hard and staying home might be harder. Quiet. Rest. I need it too, but I am plagued with guilt with every choice I make to not go to church. It is a sickness I have not been able to shake.
The surround sound in our home blares the same album over and over as Dan is caught in his own troubled sanctuary, and I am caught with a family and a church community in the ICU, where holiness and lingering death give grave glimpses of a veil uncovered. Right now September has left her daughter’s grieving friends and her own closest friends and returns to Katie’s ICU room, where she awaits surgery for organ donation. The last sentence I read, she is holding Katie’s hand and remembering holding that same hand after birthing her 19 years earlier. She now awaits her older children returning from college and graduate school for their final goodbye with their sister.
My husband had a book launch party at The Seattle School last night. It is his 15th book and the only time we have gathered as a family and community to hear about his passion and motivation for writing. He didn’t want to ask his children and their families to come. Saturday night at seven is late for grandchildren to be out, and the rigors of ferry traveling get old. But we did it. We honored Dan, and it was good. Once we got home he happened upon Tracy Chapman, and the music has not quit. It is loud, and I know he needs it, so I refrain from turning it down and imposing my need for quiet. We are transported back to 1988 when we were young, full of hope, and not pierced by the past three decades of goodness and sorrow.
The album plays for the umpteenth time and I hear Tracy implore,
“You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Anyplace is better.”
Quiet, even in the midst of noise, haunts me with desire. I feel like I am dangling over the edge of the abyss grieving September’s daughter’s death, my husband’s remembrance of the fast fury of the last 30 years, and my own inability to hold all that has happened and all that simply needs to occur today.
Loss alone binds us to the past. Joy opens and unfolds to the future. To let myself be quiet invites death and resurrection into the same space.
To let myself be quiet invites death and resurrection into the same space.
I want to get busy. And I can’t. There is something too holy, awful, and right about sitting in the wake of silence. Be quiet. Still. Let the waves of loss and death be punctuated by the sounds of the gurgling and vocalizations of our four-month-old granddaughter Grace. It is too much. In one instant tears flow, and in the next warm delight rises like the sun. And then I turn the page and September writes of the last day of her daughter’s life before the machinery keeping her alive is turned off:
“Tomorrow is my last day with this daughter of mine, and then I’ll have no more days after that. I want to spend the next twenty-four hours carefully. I don’t want to look back and think, If only… I am terrified of regrets. But what difference can I make really? What can I do for her as these hours tick by? What else but sit here? Life is so filled with doing. Tomorrow will be about being. I simply will be with my daughter. I will sit by her side. I will hold her hand. I will spend every minute just being near her. ‘Goodnight, Katiebug.’ I kiss her hand, her forehead, each eyelid, her lips. I turn, and with automated steps, walk out of the room.”
The palm branches wave before me. I can hear the exuberant noise of the crowd cheering the King who will overthrow the hated Romans. We are not told, but I suspect there was no Trump-like bravado in the face of Jesus. His face was likely quiet and fierce as he moved toward humiliation and death. I want to get into a fast car and buy a ticket anywhere other than to remain here. Exuberance, busyness, or flight can take me away from this quiet, but nothing will allow me to hold tears and joy like remembrance. Quiet will lead me to kiss the hands, forehead, eyelids, and cheeks of my sleeping granddaughter. Be quiet, oh my soul, and know all that moves within me.
You can learn more about September Vaudrey’s story, ministry, and art here. Selections of her daughter Katie’s artwork are available for purchase, with proceeds benefitting children and refugees through Willow Creek Community Church’s annual compassion campaign.