This past Saturday, August 14th 2010, it was warm and clear in northern Utah. Groups of people gathered at many outside venues to soak in the warmth and fellowship. I was outside almost all day, and I can show you exactly the areas of my exposed flesh I missed with my SPF50 sunblock. Families took advantage of one of the last weekends before school starts for reunions. Pools were filled with excited screaming youngsters. Parents and grandparents languidly watched them and wondered what cosmological dark mater replaces the energy of youth.
There is a beauty in uncomplicated frolicking that is made more precious in the very young. Before language and vocabulary make their mess of communicating the nature of fun, there exists the briefest moment when only the act of play can accurately express itself. While the toddler morphs into a kid each misstep and wobble craft metaphors of a lifetime. A simple fall can be the perfect image of something as profound as a first broken heart, and yet the tears dry so very quickly and kind words assemble smiles from nothing but trust.
Do I sound sappy? I feel sappy writing this.
I love the look of smiles on very small children. There should be more smiles on kids, and fewer looks of horror and loss. Kids have no idea where they are going; they have no reason to feel lost.
At a World Mark Resort near Bear Lake in northern Utah this Saturday a large extended family gathered to relax beside the pool. Numbering over a dozen, eight of them gregarious adults, they were a considerable group. I knew a couple of the older generation of the adults.
At some point in time a 20 month old child of the party exited the “baby” pool, walked over to the “adult” pool, jumped or fell in, and quietly drowned.
What sense is there when smiles are turned to limp meat? How can metaphors of a fabulous future become memories so quickly?
How many times will the drama of a failed rescue be replayed; each event analyzed stepwise out from reality into a horrible repeating dream? I was told that my friend jumped in and retrieved the body of his grandchild. I was told he performed CPR. CPR on a small child breaks bones. Did he feel like he was breaking her or trying desperately to reclaim her life? I will never ask.
There are so many questions that float to the surface of consciousness when talking about an event as pathetic as this. The simple question “why” breaks down into shards whose edges cut hurtfully deep. Many of the questions we can only ask ourselves in silence.
There are the support questions (e.g. What can I do for you?, Do you need anything?, Will you call me if you want to talk?) that should be asked out loud, and often. It is in the spirit of support that the ideals of atheism break down for me.
Rational approaches might work for a rational world. A world where 20-month-old girls drown is bleached free of everything rational. Gravity, electromagnetic radiation, air, and viscosity are notional at best. Can a person stand on non-existent physical principals against an emotional tsunami that has washed away value itself? No.
What do I do when asked to contribute to the magic seen by those in pain as needed for coping? If I am asked to pray for the family or the dead child’s soul what will I say? If a grieving parent takes me by the hand and asks me to describe “the place” that their child’s soul has gone to will I reply: “I don’t believe in that nonsense"? No.
I will put my hands on their shoulders and say: “I will pray if you want me to”. I will hold their hands and make up stories about a heaven where it is always Christmas, and love glows on every surface like crude soft focus. I will look into their eyes and say, with the conviction of consuming honesty, that I want them to hurt less.