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I rolled over in bed and my hand landed on a cold pillow.
That’s not right at any time and it woke me up. I looked around to find that the living room light was on.
At 4:00 a.m.
That was definitely not right, and I stumbled out of the bedroom without my glasses to see what was going on. My wife was sitting there in the chair by the window, curtains halfway open. Eyes red. Phone hanging listlessly in her hand.
“Are you okay?”
“My dad went to heaven a little while ago.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry…”
It was a Monday, and the beginning of what one might call a rough week.
I made some coffee, took the day off work, and shortly thereafter, we were using every phone in the house. My wife checked in with family back east, getting details and helping organize things while I made airline reservations and other travel arrangements to get us all there in the next few days. We’d learn much more later, but it turned out he’d passed away in his sleep. It was how he’d said he wanted to go, so amidst the shock, we were glad he’d gotten what he wanted.
We flew back east to help with some of the arrangements, and had a gathering of family and friends who came to celebrate the life of a man loved and cherished by so many. We learned a lot about family, and about how there are times when you pitch in and help even when you don’t know what do do, or how to do it. Friends and long lost family came out of the woodwork, and amidst all the grief and sadness, there was a feeling of simply being blessed by the presence of the people who were there both in body and in spirit.
There were those who listened, those who made sure there was food for all the people who showed up, and those who shared stories that made us both laugh and cry. I don’t remember all their names, but I will remember how they made us feel, and surrounded by family in the middle of chaos, we felt loved.
Soon it was time to pack up and leave where we had all gathered. We started to put things away only to realize, to our surprise, that much of the work had already been done. Done by willing hands who offered their help when it was needed, expecting nothing in return. We found that things and people had been taken back to the house. Unbidden, they just did it, and the stories, the laughter, and the tears, continued.
My wife would end up staying for several weeks to help out with the myriad of things that needed to be done, but a day or so later, it was time for me to head west again. To do that, we first had to head east about three hours through a massive rainstorm (<–news video of the storm and flooding) to get to the airport in Detroit.
Once again, the wipers were barely enough to keep the windshield clear, and the storm seemed to match physically what we were all going through emotionally. I had to block the emotion out, I’d have time on the plane to think about things. Right then, I just had to deal with driving and paying attention to what I could see of the road.
We got to the airport, I got out, managed to hug my sister-in-law, kiss Cindy goodbye and get under cover without getting too wet where I got through the beloved security lines and then to the gate, where it looked like this:
The storm looked and felt like something we’d been through not much more than a month before, so I looked it up on the radar and found this:
See the deep red dot at the left edge of that orange blob in the middle?
That’s where the worst of the storm was.
It’s also where the airport is.
And where I was.
It seemed fitting.
What’s strange is that right about then I realized something profound in its simplicity:
The reality of the storm we were in couldn’t be changed.
We could only change our reaction to it.
I mean, we could run to stay out of the rain, but we’d still get wet while we were in it.
That realization helped me see the bigger picture of the storm I’d seen through the windshield, out the window at the airport, and on the weather radar coalesce with the storm we were all going through emotionally.
That, also, seemed fitting.
Because of the storm, my wife’s 3 1/2 hour trip back with her sister turned into something closer to 5 1/2 hours. It was raining so hard they had to wait by the side of the road in places because they couldn’t see, much like the people waiting in the last story. I waited with all the others in the airplane at the airport until the worst was over, and finally, we were able to take our place in line and head out.
It took some time, but we finally took off, climbed out of the storm and saw the blue sky again.
Looking back, I got a different perspective on the storm we’d been through, how we’d gone deep into it, been bounced around a good bit, and then, finally, a sense of, if not clarity, then acceptance…
After a long stop in Chicago, we chased the longest sunset I’d ever seen, all the way to Seattle.
I watched it for hours, most of the flight, actually.
…and it got me thinking…
See, what I was leaving behind, was rain, a good bit of chaos, and tears…
But I also left behind memories of a quiet, gentle man who taught not only his kids to play baseball, and who made an ice rink in the side yard for hockey because winters were cold enough to freeze it. Come to think of it, that wasn’t just for his kids, but all the kids in the neighborhood.
I left behind memories, stories of when he’d hunted rabbit to keep food on the table, and the stories of the look of satisfaction he had when he’d gotten a deer in the fall. He knew that meant the family would eat well that winter.
I had my own memories – of when I sat chatting with him on the front porch, looking out over his lawn, the bird feeder, and the maple tree he’d planted as a stick, years ago, the same porch we’d sat on side by side when I asked him if I could marry his daughter.
That had been over 25 years ago.
I looked out the window, lost in those thoughts, and then smiled at one more, remembering when he taught me how to pour coffee, and how important it was to pour it *just right*.
Back in the plane, I looked back a bit, and could see the darkness gaining on us.
Eventually we had a glorious sunset in front of us, darkness behind us, but the darkness was faster…
And so it goes with all of us, right? Each one of us has a flight to take, one on which there will be rough weather. And beautiful weather.
And at some point – there will be a sunset that we all must face.
I pondered a bit more as the plane was slowly enveloped in the darkness, and that glorious sunset slipped away, replaced with a gray, unearthly twilight.
Looking back again, I could see the moon casting shadows on the clouds. The darkness had its own beauty. It was easy to look down, but I felt a strong urge to look up, to see what the sky looked like at night from this high up, so I slouched down in my seat as much as I could, turned my own light off above my seat, and as hard as it was in that position, I looked up.
And as our plane descended through the turbulence back to earth, the sunset faded, and I looked up into the dark, dark sky. I realized that the beauty of the fading sunset…
…had been replaced by stars.