[Note: This post continues a previous post, Bombs, Grief and Grace: Living with Loss.]
In my last post, I tried to craft a simile between a bomb crater and grief. It was just another way of looking at the effects of time on pain, sorrow, and sadness. I was looking for a different take on the healing power of grace and time.
Among the comments I received, one from an old friend, Sandy, really grabbed my attention. Sandy has recently experienced significant loss, and her insight is keen. She acknowledges the healing power of grace and time, but adds--
As I live and walk through this grief, I sometimes find myself tripping over hidden pieces of shrapnel. It is then that I find myself on my knees once again, begging for eyes to see his goodness…thanking God for his grace that picks me up and returns me to walking with him.
Sandy’s words jarred me into realizing that my original simile was incomplete. Although time and grace do ease our sorrow, every passing day is not always better than its yesterday.
They’re not always good days. Painful days often can and do present themselves months and even years after the loss. This fact caused me to look for a way to extend the simile of the crater. A news headline from the BBC gladly obliged me:
“London City Airport Shut as WW2 Bombs Found Near Thames.”
Europe and many other places are littered with buried unexploded munitions. The Smithsonian Magazine records that the Allies dropped “2.7 million tons of bombs on Europe…yet as many as ten percent of the bombs…failed to explode.”
The author goes on to note that as of 2016, “more than 2000 tons of unexploded munitions are uncovered on German soil every year.” The article only covers bombs dropped by the Allies. The Axis powers also dropped huge numbers of bombs, notably on Britain. Sadly, there are many more recent burial grounds for unexploded munitions. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Syria, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Ukraine come to mind.
Time and tide have hidden most unexploded bombs deep in the earth. It is no surprise, then, that people going about their everyday business should unearth one. Digging a garden, plowing a field, building just about anything can turn an ordinary task on an ordinary day into a dangerous situation. Life stops until experts can deal with the bomb.
So it is with grief. As we go about some mundane activity, we may unearth the past: a sight, a sound, a memory will unexpectedly bring back the pain of loss.
Just as the construction workers on the banks of the Thames did not expect their day to be upended by uncovering a 70-year-old bomb, we sometimes unexpectedly experience the pain of an old loss.
For obvious reasons, unexploded bombs must be taken seriously and dealt with most carefully. It would be both foolish and dangerous to ignore them, to shove them back in the ground, to pretend they don’t exist. Unless you are a gardener, farmer, or construction worker who happens to moonlight as a ordnance disposal expert, it is also unwise to try deal with an unexploded bomb by yourself. For your own good, you need to find and accept help.
So it is with resurgent grief. We must take the situation seriously and deal with it gently, and accept the help of others.
Perhaps the reopening of an old wound today may seem like betrayal of all of the effects of time and grace that brought us comfort on so many yesterdays. What got me through the years of my son’s illness, the moment of his death, and every one of the 8,077 days since that day is the knowledge that the grace and time that sustained me yesterday will sustain me today and tomorrow. God’s love and grace do not change. Time does not stand still. A temporary return to grief does not signal a failure on my part or on God’s part.
The 8,077 days since I held my 12-year old son and felt his final heartbeat have not all been good days. But most of them have. I’m reminded of an obvious but profound truth I once read:
So far, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days.*
If you’re reading this, that statement must be true.
So thank you, Sandy, for helping me extend the simile into something a bit more true to real life. No, they’re not all good days, but grace, time, and community still stand ready to comfort us.
*I would gladly cite the author, but I have been unable to determine who he or she is. If you know, please let me know.
(c) 2018 Larry Pizzi
When I was a young Army second lieutenant in training for my first assignment, I had to go through a course called “Crater Analysis.” We examined fresh bomb and artillery craters to learn how to identify the source and type of the explosion that created them.
What I remember most about the craters is that they were ugly and ominous: huge holes that scarred the earth. They were hot and still smoking. Shards of steel shrapnel, jagged, twisted and still dangerous, protruded from the sides and littered the ground. The earth around the crater was scorched black; all the vegetation in the vicinity was blasted. A jagged, ugly, and grim hole in the earth.
Not many months later, I found myself stationed in Germany. Since I was a very junior officer, there were no American houses available, so my new wife and I lived in a little farm village of about 180 souls ten miles outside of Nuremberg as the crow flies. The rural countryside of Bavaria is beautiful, and when time allowed we would take long walks across farm fields, meadows, and through beautiful woods.
One day, as we were walking, I noticed that, even though we were in a flat meadow, we were walking up and down. We would walk a few yards, dip downward ever so slightly and then walk upward. The effect was slight but noticeable. It suddenly occurred to me that the source of our up and down movement was old bomb craters.
Despite the passage of three decades since the round the clock carpet-bombing of Nuremberg in 1945, and despite nature’s skill in healing herself, the craters were still there, their jagged edges softened and covered with new life of grass and trees.
Many years later, having gone from second lieutenant to lieutenant colonel and nearing the end of my career, my 12-year old son died of brain cancer. The effect was obviously devastating and not unlike the effect of a bomb or artillery shell on its target.
Today, 22 years since my son’s death, I take comfort in the images of the bomb craters.
When my son died, the hole in my life, in my self, was like the fresh crater I had seen in training: scarred and grim. In the years since Tim’s death, the hole created by his absence has softened and smoothed over, like the craters in the fields and forests my wife and I frequented on our walks.
But the hole is still there. And I would want it no other way.
I do not want the hole to go away. I am, however, blessed by the grace of God and the friendship and fellowship of family, friends, and community who smooth and soften the hole over the years. Even today, time and grace are healing the once fearsome crater.
When loss is fresh, we wander confusedly and fearfully through the wilderness of grief. But as the Old Testament prophet reminds us, God’s grace works to “fill the valleys and level the hills, [To] straighten out the curves and smooth off the rough spots.” (Isaiah 40: 4, 5)
As we travel through our grief with a loving God, with friends and with family we do not forget our loss. With their help the crater’s scar becomes less jagged, less ugly, less fearsome, but no less real.
That’s the reality of grace, family, friendship, and community.
(c) 2018 Larry Pizzi
Why do commonplace things sometimes catch our eye?
For me, in a world in which it seems every headline ends in an exclamation point whether it needs it or not and much of what passes for news is click bait, the mundane is refreshing and sobering.
I look at this array and wonder what they're for. But I also wonder about the people who designed them, manufactured them, planned their use, loaded them, unloaded them, and installed them. Each one quietly and without fanfare doing an honest day's work.
No exclamation points. No hyperbole. No click bait. Just humanity in the simplicity of black and white.
My son died nearly 22 years ago at the age of 12. A few weeks after his death, some very kind people planted a public garden in his memory. One of the plants was this oat grass.
His mother and I have relocated several times in the intervening years. Each time we carried with us a sprig of the oat grass, planted it, and watched it grow and spread. Today, its offspring are firmly rooted in Kansas, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
It is bitter cold here today. The ground is as hard as rock. Yet, without fail, in a couple of months, the days will lengthen, the ground will thaw, and the oat grass will return, breaking through the soil to begin another year to spread beyond last year's boundaries. Without fail.
Life will not be denied where there is love, patience, and hope!
50 years of photographs and 35 years of keeping a commonplace book.