After a busy summer, Lindsay and I are settling back into school-year rhythms. We’ve missed the practice of writing for Each Holy Hour and the camaraderie of exploring this good world with each of you. We hope your fall routines are emerging with space for a cup of tea and a deep breath. I wrote this reflection a few days ago, shortly after our summer ended in the sort of unexpected tragedy that marks all our lives. Thank you for sharing this space with me.
It’s been a week since I watched my dog die, and today I am finding the business of living difficult. I am trying to summon my energy for tasks and goals. I am trying to make myself go for a walk, by myself. Charley, our Jack Russell, was after all a dog, and I can live without a dog. But the truth is, I miss him terribly.
It doesn’t help that our sun glows red today from the fires devastating Washington and Oregon’s exquisite forests. Elsewhere, floods and hurricanes shatter livelihoods. As I watered my parched garden this morning, I pulsed with the ancient question: why do terrible things destroy good? Why does senseless violence pummel homes, devour lives, wreck hopes, and just last week, tear our beloved dog apart in front of my daughter Beatrix and my niece?
I haven’t been able to get the images out of my mind. As we walked home from soccer practice, a large, vicious dog appeared silently, took Charley in his jaws, and shook him until he died. In the hours that followed, Beatrix kept sobbing, “Why did that have to happen?”
I don’t know, I don’t know, I’m sorry. It is the only refrain I can find in moments of tragedy.
What I see in this world is beautiful. What I see in this world is broken. What I know right now is sadness.
And yet. Last night, as Beatrix lingered over dinner, I suddenly thought of an old hymn we learned years ago at our Mennonite Church. Before I knew it, I was singing it out loud, locking eyes with my daughter.
My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
Over the years, through bone-shattering tragedy that has destroyed people and places we loved with all our hearts, I have come back to that hymn. Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
Today, once again, I hold both the reality of not-knowing, of grief, alongside this song my soul sings. It is a song shot through by the same sure joy I saw in our dog as he sprinted after a squirrel or snuggled next to Beatrix at the end of the day. It is the song that stirred us as a policeman laid his own jacket over Charley’s broken body. It is the song of my sister quietly returning to scrub away the signs of brutality from the pavement. It is a song I chose to hear, of being alive in a place where–despite everything–Love is Lord of heaven and earth.
Lindsay sent me an excerpt from Le Petit Prince a few days ago.
“Goodbye,” said the fox. “Here is my secret. One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
Thank you, friend of my heart, for those words. Today, though my heart aches, I choose to return again to what is essential: great love, a world shot through by beauty and goodness. How then can I keep from singing?
p.s. Join us on The Back Page for a discussion about summers, dogs, and new responsibilities. We’d love to hear your summer memories and your autumnal hopes! (Spoiler Alert: Kim is getting to know a beautiful rescue dog and Lindsay is busy with students!)
p.p.s. We’ve still got a stack of lovely “Each Holy Hour” cards. Please let us know if you’d like to find one in your mailbox. Just visit the “Contact Us” page at our website and send us your address. There’s no obligation and your information is completely private–it’s truly a free little gift of wonder.