February’s Harsh Realities


Welcome to my wrestling match. Maybe yours too.

My emotions are all over the place as I struggle to understand, to come to terms with reality. And today, I am feeling that I’ve been such an idealist, for far too long.

People are struggling here. People are suffering here in huge and scary ways. I honestly feel, on many days, that my self-pity isn’t justified. I am just a spoiled brat, stomping my foot, as though God or the Universe or WHOEVER owes me something. What – was my family supposed to be exempt? Were we not supposed to experience personal pain in this life? Direct, punch in the gut, flay-your-skin-off agony? Why in the world would I expect us to be the exception? This existence is not about happy-ever-afters. We lost our sweet little nephew, John, back in 2002, after he succumbed while being treated for leukemia. How is it that I thought that was it for that kind of awful?

There are women all over the globe who’ve seen – or know – their children have been raped, murdered, sexually exploited, blown up, died of starvation or malaria or diarrhea; perhaps they were beheaded, hung – you name it – because the family identifies as [insert persecuted religious group here]. My kid…my kid got hit by a car as he was biking to class, and in a freak of circumstance, the impact was just enough to cause inoperable damage to his liver. For 19 years, 3 months and 12 days he lived a life of inordinate privilege and security. He wanted nor lacked for anything. I’ve said that he only had 4 bad hours in his whole life and that is almost 100% true. The medical system spent almost $100,000 – you read that right – trying to save him from Death. Less than five hours from accident to the end of his earthly existence. That’s $20,000 per hour. He still died.

I’m not saying my sorrow is any less real or important. I’m saying I’ve woken up even more to the fact that I am a member of a “club” called the human race and pain is everywhere.

A good friend is scared to death for her child, who struggles with depression. Other friends we know have lost children to suicide, to drugs, to a hail of bullets in a VA Tech classroom in 2007. Folks we love are riddled with disease, with suffering – cancer, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s, crippling arthritis, MS, chronic fatigue, Lyme – and yet are desperate to live. Hanging on for their lives, for their spouses, for their children. My heart was broken even before Mark died.

WHERE ARE YOU, GOD? Where are you in this mess? I know You are, You exist. How can we find You, hang on to You, and know You are hanging on to us, too (even harder), when the world – personal or collective – seems to be collapsing?

In the midst of February lies Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent. I’ve seen the power of this season in my own life. And so, in spite of the storm raging within me, I agree to go with my minister, Matthew, to the metro station in Crystal City — to provide this service to busy commuters, to hold the ashes, to be a witness to the transformation. Strangers become fellow travelers; we are united in our search for God, for peace in the chaos, for deeper meaning.

Afterward, I went home. I’d had a dream, the night before, of sitting on Mark’s floor and looking up under his bedroom furniture. I decide to take the dream hint, to look. Under his desk, scratched in green ink, I find some incredibly adorable notes from Sarah, who had the desk before him. References to ponies – she was SUCH a horse-lover for a while – makes me smile, wistfully, as I remember her tiny self trying to control an especially ornery horse that would have preferred to bite her and everyone else.

I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I keep going.

I discover, in Mark’s notebook for his history class, that he’d had to write some journaling exercises in there, probably because he’d “temporarily misplaced” his AP English notebook. In those entries, written in the last months of his senior year in HS, he talks about whether he’ll be successful in college. He’s a little wary…”maybe I am Peter Pan. Maybe I don’t want to grow up.” But he goes on…he knows that one of his strengths is perseverance, that he doesn’t give up when something really, really matters to him. He says he knows he’ll be okay in the long run. He talks about not wanting to “lose his future” for a stupid reason, like getting caught with drugs or alcohol. He doesn’t mention running a stop sign on his bike.

Tears are falling.

Breathe. Breathe.

I turn my attention to the big plastic bins we used last November, when we moved his stuff out of his bachelor pad, and I begin to sort through the contents…his clothes, the school supplies we’d bought just a few months before, such a short time ago, his allergy meds, the contact lenses he wouldn’t wear (“the glasses are me, Mom, my identity!”)…and it’s beyond overwhelming.

I begin to scream, in my sorrow, my rage and frustration. Why not just kill me now, God? GET IT OVER WITH. Why make me wait to die? Because I. CAN’T. DO. THIS. I cannot survive this pain.

Did I….did I do something wrong? Is this my fault, somehow? I must be a really, really awful mom if you felt you had to take my kid away. Oh God, oh God. Right now I cannot think of a single thing I did well…only where I failed.

Stop it, stop it Emily.

OK, God, that’s not in keeping with your character. You love us endlessly. You are not punishing me; in fact, it’s more wrong that I am putting me in the middle of this. Maybe…maybe you needed Mark. Maybe… that’s it, maybe you needed him in heaven, with his finely tuned, virtual sniping skills from all that gaming…he could take out some seriously bad demons. Or maybe, like some books and deep thinkers suggest, he was done with his work here…he had completed the purpose for which he lived.

Could you please just say that then?

Say something?



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