When we got the news about our dear friend Greg passing, we were in a hotel room alongside the Merced river, about to head home in hours of holiday weekend traffic. With our spirits broken, we just couldn’t face the long grueling drive, so we decided to stay in Yosemite for one more day. For Troy and I, our church has always been nature. This is where we feel closest to creation and the creator, and where we wanted to be when mourning our friend.
We took a day trip, 8000 feet in elevation, into high country. It seemed closer to Heaven, the right place to say goodbye. At times we drove in silence, but it was tough with our four-year-old Evan bouncing around in the back, singing loudly, asking questions, reciting the Korean alphabet over and over (his newest obsession).
We thought of Greg as we drove through canyons, past countless waterfalls, through meadows with grazing deer, around pristine cobalt blue lakes, through patches of snow nestled between tall shady pines. So much beauty, and yet life is always hanging precariously. The forest will be taken by wildfire, the deer by a predator. So many questions crowded my mind. Such senseless heartache. What reason could there possibly be for this loss? Greg was young, healthy, and dropped dead suddenly of a heart attack. How could this be? At times, I’d look over at Troy and see a tear streaming down the side of his face as he drove, and all the while Evan was singing the Bob Marley song…Don’t worry…bout a thing…every little thing…gonna be alright…
Our best friends Erin and Beth met us at the top, with their four-year-old Ben. We ventured out on a hike into a landscape so gorgeous it may be what Heaven is actually modeled after. The Toulumne meadow stretches on forever, a blanket of green-gold grasses dotted with wildflowers, ribboned with rivers, streams and mineral springs. Evan and Ben skipped through the meadow, over bridges and streams, laughing and playing tag. At any moment you expected to find Julie Andrews spinning in place and singing. All this and yet so heavy our hearts.
It is said that prayer is talking and meditation is listening. I tried to do a lot of listening in this country. I listened as we watched a herd of deer in the center of the meadow, the bucks standing watch as the does and fawns grazed. I listened as we stood ten feet away from a brown bear, who looked up to acknowledge our presence, but peacefully went about his business eating plants and berries, allowing us to sit close and observe him. I listened, and I wondered how the world could be so heartbreakingly beautiful and yet so cruel. But this is nature – pristine, perfect in its design, and absolutely cruel.
I have no answers, only endless questions. All I know is that life is a miracle, and it can also be a nightmare. It is a gift that will one day be snatched away. It is Heaven and it is Hell, and we’re here to experience it all. And I’m reminded that we are definitely on borrowed time, so there’s no use putting things off until “one day”. One thing Troy said that brought me to tears, and does even typing it now…he said Greg died with so much music still in him, dreams he never saw fulfilled. That crushed me.
After a long hike, we began our descent back to the Yosemite Valley. We were quiet and contemplative in the car, but our four year old was not. He’s on a new kick with knock-knock jokes. For forty minutes we endured this:
Evan: Interrupting chicken!
And it went on with a litany of other interrupting animals; cows, pigs, snakes, parrots…until finally I told him we needed to take a little break so Daddy and I could have some quiet time. At only four years old, he had no idea what we were dealing with, nor should he have to.
Troy and I discussed Greg’s life, asked the questions aloud. How could this happen? What kind of a God allows this? Why always the good ones? All the questions you ask in a horrific circumstance like this.
We continued to talk about Greg’s life, what a sweet soul he was. We grieved for his young son, and his wife.
Evan: Excuuuuuse me….Mommy I want to tell you something…
Me: Please don’t interrupt Evan.
We went on. I started to cry when I talked about how unique Greg was, how positive and kind he was. Troy and I talked about how Greg always made you feel lifted…
Evan: EXCUSE ME MOMMY- I WANT TO TELL YOU SOMETHING.
Me: (A little annoyed now) What is it Evan?
I whipped my head around to look at him. He was sitting in his car seat, with his huge blue eyes and a sweet expression.
Evan: Mommy, I will lift you up.
Of course this left us both speechless. I paused, and put my hand on his cheek.
Me: You are my sweet angel. I love you. Thank you for saying that.
He smiled sweetly, kicking his little legs back and forth. I wiped my eyes and thanked God for my blessings.
And that’s how we muddle through. Life simply goes on…