The last several days frosted an intricate pattern of heart break over my eyes. Friday, 15 people from the Humboldt Broncos hockey franchise died in a tragic bus collision just hours from my front door. More than 100 people killed Saturday in Syria, between air strikes and a chemical attack. And Monday, 23 children lost when a school bus drove off a road. Senseless death surrounds. The sun rises and the light and warmth melts the ice, blurring my vision. Where do we get the courage to breathe goodbye, again?
I want a world where the people I love will always be with me. This weekend, I held my ten-year-old as she tried to absorb another round of overwhelming loss. Her tears fell wet across my chest and her body shook in my arms. The death of strangers exposes the wounds of our recent losses, and draws the new mourners into our minds and hearts.
“The world and its desire are passing away,” wrote John, in his second letter. It is so hard to live in a world that is dying constantly. The verse goes on to say that “those who do the will of God live forever.” The living, now and forever, seem to be tied up with the dying, with willing to live through the death, to whisper goodbye in the heart ache, to walk through the darkness, and to will living in spite of death.
The ice melts slowly, the liquid gently and slowly, moving what was once solid and rigid. Tears blur my vision, as if it was not already impossible to see how we could go on living without you. The sun comes up on days without you in them and everything feels wrong. There might be beauty left on the other side of the glass but it will not ever look the same. Nothing feels good about this goodbye.
It is a strange irony that this piece will also be my last in the Prairie Messenger, published for over 100 years in Muenster, just outside of Humboldt. The paper is closing and with it go the pages that first published my work. I am barely breathing goodbye to the staff that have encouraged and sharpened my voice. I am grieving the loss of a part of the prophetic vision and voice of the Benedictine brothers have faithfully offered from this prairie corner of the world. The goodbyes we anticipate and expect do not necessarily take less courage than the ones that are forced on us with an unexpected violence.
In the throes of April, laboring feebly toward spring, prairie people have forced breath onto frosted windows our whole lives. We have written our names on window panes with frozen fingers since we were children. It takes tremendous courage to trace our shapes on a canvas that we know is melting.
It is a curious word, goodbye. The word, like all language, is inherited. In the sixteenth century, the longer, “God be with you,” contracted into the more contemporary, “goodbye.” The older form works cracks into the ice. To say goodbye is to courageously trust God’s people to God as we let them go.
I want to hold my breath, to freeze time somewhere before the moment of senseless death, to defy the constant passing away of this beautiful, changing world. But holding my breath will not restore life. It will only deprive me of the air I need to go on living. So I can breathe goodbye as an act of rebellion against death itself. God is with us even as death divides us.
From a God who breathed his final, tortured breath, and then rolled away the stone, sunrise follows the darkness. When the frost obscures my vision, the sun gently melts the ice and gently cleanses me. In time, the glass is clear again and I can see the steps into life and beauty on the other side of the loss. Being changes the world, even if not permanently.
And so I am holding space for the grieving, myself among them. For the courage for countless families to whisper goodbye this week. For light and warmth to be wrapped around the grieving by the coming spring and the care of surrounding communities. For the tension of held breath to give way to deep drawing in of air and its release. For tears of pain and healing.
May we draw on the God who is grieving with us, the God who is with us on both sides of the losses. May we be filled with the courage to breathe goodbye to what has been. And may the tears slowly clear our vision to see and receive the life that follows loss.