Breath

I hit a bird on the way to church today. It flew right into my van, and I couldn’t avoid it. In my side mirror, I watched the black wings stutter and the body fall to the ground.

At church, I looked at the new icons. Jesus is finally in our dome, as he should be. I marveled at the intricate designs around the windows of the dome. I glanced around the church, and found the iconographers, here from Russia. They looked plain. Yet they’ve transformed our church into something beautiful.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord we sang. Or did the cantors sing it? I can’t remember now; it could have been just a line from a prayer.

Fourteen years ago today, my brother Will and his best friend John died on a street in Phuket, Thailand.

What if the breath’s been knocked out of you?

What if your child is dead?

How do you praise the Lord then?

Today is Pentecost Sunday, and all the children carried flowers to the front: an offering.

That is all I have to offer now: something else created, something else that has breath, to take the place of mine.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, and I don’t know how that is related to Will except that after Pentecost, some of the disciples became missionaries, as my parents did, which took us to Thailand.

The years there have been caved up in my heart for some time. I have to protect them. I have to protect that family, those experiences, those friends. The way Thailand brought us together, closer than other families, because we were each other’s safe harbor. We could always come home to the relief of speaking English with each other, the relief of going back to our American ways. Then the English became Thai-lish and the American became just soft edges merging with Thai-ness. If I let all that go, maybe I let Will go.

You may think that we have lost everything. That’s what it looks like. But it’s not true. We have everything. I have my brother’s low voice calling me Kris. I have the four of us piling on Mom and Dad’s bed to watch TV in the only cool room in the house. I have hours of playing soccer in the tiny front yard under the mango tree. I have Will’s Kramer impression at dinner and his wide smile at school with his friends. I have his tears when he couldn’t beat me at backyard obstacle courses and his laughter when he’d grown tall and could beat me at anything. I have all the nights we hung out with Uncle Mike and Aunt Rachel and Debbie, goofing off and singing praise choruses and trying to survive as strangers. I have the Thais blessing our family with flowers and prayers at church just days before Will’s death.

I have every breath of his in every one of mine. I have a wild-growing uncontrollable desire to make his life count, to remember, to relive, to wander among the grasses of his memory. This is what life means: that we keep on living, we keep on taking the breaths that our loved ones – even that bird from this morning – can’t take anymore, that we step forward morning after morning even when we are afraid, even when death is part of our landscape.

Today my mother gave me a quote from someone named Elizabeth Yates. “Mystery and miracle once meant the same thing. Now, as we orient ourselves to a new way of living, those two words may have again the same meaning. There are many things that cannot be explained. To try to force an explanation in pursuit of the mystery may, in this case, lessen the miracle. Don’t try to grapple with the event of death with logic, but meet it with faith.”

Will’s death drew us closer to each other and also wrenched us apart. It pushed us toward God, and it also pulled us away from him. It made us feel more deeply than we’d ever felt, and it catapulted us into a dull, emotionless state. It is a paradox, a mystery, the ultimate unanswerable question.

Can I find miracle in that mystery?

Maybe it’s a miracle that my parents have found healing.

Maybe it’s a miracle that I can open my eyes each morning and say thank you.

Maybe it’s a miracle that my heart is still willing to love.

Maybe it’s a miracle that everywhere I look, I see moments that I want to catch in my hands and hold close to me forever.

Maybe it’s a miracle that I can stop holding my breath in fear and let myself welcome the world into my body.

7 comments

  1. Dan McDonald says:

    Thank you for sharing this. The paradoxes ring so true. We lose but have, look to God and pull away. We pray to God to be his hands and feet on the earth and are upset when he answers our prayer by giving us wounds and scars. We weep and only slowly understand “He wept.” A little brother to lose; few sorrows can be more bitter. God bless.

  2. Myrna Martin says:

    I had in life a little brother. He also was taken away by somby a minute of life in this world happening. I miss him much, and I was so grateful for the church service yesterday that reminded me to keep him alive

  3. Thank you for writing and sharing such a beautiful and thought-provoking testimonial! As a fellow TCK…..traveling around the world…. I too have had challenging moments where what would seem to have been an irreparable lost — actually through faith, understanding, and acceptance was transformed into one of life’s extraordinary boons.

    Yes, in life there is death….and in death there is life….

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