Tuesday, April 5, 2011

O Death Where Is Thy Sting?

This morning, at the beginning of my 5 a.m. jog, I set out into the cool, pre dawn darkness, curling my hands up into my windbreaker sleeves against the slight breeze.  Just above the rooftops, Scorpio curled its tail down, punctuating the sky in an eons old question mark.  Over my shoulder, Cassiopeia was just rising, its crooked line of stars forming the distinct crown outline of Greek myth.  As my feet and breath fell into rhythm, my mind wandered to the night I had learned about that particular constellation.

We were at summer camp.  The camp director took all the work crew girls out into the athletic field after sundown one evening, to teach us about the night sky.

"And over there," he said with gentle humor, as we all craned our heads back, "is Cassiopeia.  Most people say it's the crown of a Greek goddess.  But I always used to tell Wendy it was a 'W' in the sky, just for her."

I looked over at his profile, a black cut-out against the brilliant Texas sky.  I knew the story of Wendy, his daughter.  When I was in 6th grade, we came back to the States on furlough in time for me to attend summer camp as a camper.  A week before my block was scheduled to begin, Wendy and some friends were driving home on a twisty back road.  On one treacherous turn, another car came zooming from the opposite direction.  Most of the truck's occupants survived.  Wendy and one other boy did not.

Although the director and staff were in deep mourning, camp was not cancelled.  The next week scores of hopeful young girls (of which I was one) flooded the cabins, lake and dining hall.  One night, my counselor led us to the director's cabin, and we sang hymns of consolation from the front gate.

Looking at the director, four years later, I thought about that night when our voices had carried on the soft Texas air, and wondered at the love and patient humor in his voice.  I knew his faith had to be immensely strong to carry on ministering Christ to hundreds of young women, while his own daughter had been taken from him.

And then, with Cassiopeia and Wendy still on my mind today, Scott came home with sobering news.  A colleague of his, Wyatt, died suddenly in the middle of the work day.  Unlike Wendy, we aren't sure where Wyatt stood before he died.  Instead of sadness holding hands with hope, my husband and I felt, as we sat together absorbing the news, the great sting of death.  A hopelessness, the finality of a giant door being swung shut with a thunderclap.

From now on, when I see Cassiopeia strung like great jewels in the sky, I will think about Wendy and Wyatt.  And then I will turn to Scorpio's question mark, suspended, asking the eternal question:
"Where do you stand?"

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