Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How About a Romantic Story?

The day I first held Joy’s hand was in Central Park on June 2, 1997. But before I take you to that moment, I need to back up a year.

It was the last week of my last year of college. I leaned across the sprawling front bench seat of my 1983 Chevy Caprice Classic and planted an innocent peck on her cheek. We had never been romantic up to that point. She totally didn’t see it coming. I instantly knew I had overstepped. But her smile said, “It’s OK. I forgive you.”

Within hours after that regrettable peck, I moved 600 miles east to live and work in New York City. We exchanged letters (yes, paper ones) for a year. Our letters weren’t sappy at all. We just tried to make each other laugh about life. During that year, we even dated other people off and on.

The prospect of our relationship ever being more than it was seemed impossible. We both knew it would never go anywhere. The affections were there, but the circumstances were simply stacked against us.

Until, as providence would have it, she landed a summer internship at the midtown Manhattan company where I worked, and would be coming in June for the summer. When I got the news that she was coming, I somehow knew that my one constant friend and pen pal—whose letters had always made me laugh—would be making me laugh for a lifetime.

Back to June 2, 1997. It was a picture perfect day in New York. We had made plans to spend a Saturday together as casual friends, seeing the city that was still somewhat new to me, and even newer to her.

We were standing on a subway platform that morning, waiting for the next train, when a disheveled black street artist approached us. He had a large pad of white paper in one hand, and a few fat Crayola markers in the other.

He didn’t say much, if my memory serves me. He just stood there, drawing. Not two minutes later, he tore off the top sheet and offered it to me. On it, he had messily but masterfully drawn each of our profiles in green, facing opposite directions, inside a giant orange heart. Under the heart, he had scrawled

Love Forever

and his signature, in orange.

Upon seeing it, we both blushed and looked down at the empty train tracks, smiling speechless. I took the picture from him and gave him a $20 bill. I rolled it up and tucked it under my arm. We barely looked at each other, and laughed nervously, as he walked away. Within seconds, the A train arrived and we were on our way uptown.

Like her move to New York, that moment on the subway platform was completely unexpected, yet eerily prophetic in my heart the moment it happened. I'd thought I would know Joy well enough to know I loved her before the summer was over. But I ended up knowing before the day was over.

Later that beautiful afternoon, as we took a leisurely stroll through Central Park, laughing and talking with the drawing still rolled up under my arm, I reached over and slid my hand into hers. We both seemed to float off the ground at that moment. There was no doubt that it was the right time.

We’ve always kept that picture. The paper has deteriorated to an ugly yellow. The heart and the words are almost completely invisible. But our profiles are still easy to see.

Just like real life, a lot has changed in the picture, but we’re still strong.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Some Life Returns

Spring is no longer flirting with us, and has fully unfurled her beauty.

Flowering trees are bursting with more blooms than their branches can handle, leaving the ground under them sugared with the excess of their glory.

Every inch of virgin grass looks almost artificial—dotted with taller, thicker clumps where machines have yet to raze them flat. The broadleaf still slumber, making every lawn look like its owner spent a fortune on it. Random stands of Daffodils flank hedges like imperial guards surrounding a stronghold. Birds serenade the morning, celebrating this great awakening.

Some life has returned. But not all.

For the fifth Spring, her body still sleeps beneath the soil, under a plush stand of new grass once again. I drive past the graveyard daily before dawn, and gaze out over the sea of cold granite markers. I remember her warm smile. Her cry. Her laugh. She sleeps among the hundreds like her who once smiled, cried and laughed.

I remember how taking care of her broken body was more than we could handle most days. How grace was our only solace, and wellspring of sanity. How most days, we would leave every ounce of ourselves on the kitchen floor before collapsing into bed—only to be awakened by her night cries for help.

During her eight years of life, we reached such high highs and low lows, living from surgery to surgery, with barely a banal moment. When life is that frenzied, you long for uneventful, dull normalcy—boredom.

Today, five Springs later, her body sleeps on, while her spirit is away. I’m not sure where Paradise is exactly, but I know she is there.

One day, we will sleep, too. Our spirits will cross the same river, and she will welcome us in to join the feast she has long been enjoying at the feet of Jesus.

Until then, we lean on that same Jesus, by whose might we are able to even stand up in the meantime. It’s a lifetime of picking up pieces, sorting through ashes, groaning inwardly as we await the redemption of our own bodies. This will go on, no matter how long we live.

Some life has returned. But only One was human.

So I look to the One whose life returned. Who went before me, and conquered death. Who understands my grief.

The One Who, each Spring, surrounds me with reminders that He isn’t done raising the dead.

How about you? How does the arrival of Spring, and new life, affect your grief over a lost loved one? Is it a painful reminder, or a hopeful one?