Triggers: Those things that foreseen or unseen come unbidden and in an instant render my face the appearance of gargoyle worthy of the flying buttresses of Notre Dame (The cathedral in Paris, not the college in South Bend, IN)
Yesterday I opened a Christmas Card, and out fell a short note. You always know the people who write you cards: the friends, the neighbors, the family and often enough the insurance agent or employer. They bring the season’s greetings, the Happy Holidays or Happy New Years and sometimes even Merry Christmas.
Of course those sentiments fall on the broken hearts of our family that bravely beat on in a time passing rhythym that marks the day in and day out of this period of anticipation. It is so customary for phone calls, like cards and letters, to end with a seasonal send-off that rings hollow in our heads and then falls like a marble on broken glass. Each barefoot step on that glass is a pane. But of course those aren’t the triggers, those are the anticipated, the tolerated; the things known to be shared with the best of intentions but said without thought, feeling or compassion.
How is our season to be Merry or Happy, when the littlest one who we relied upon for his Joy is not here to bring smiles or initiate laughter? We get that the season is one for Joy and Peace and Hope and Love; but these are experienced in a completely different way by us this year. As we fend off the inanity of thoughtless repetition and seek to engage our fellow humanity in celebrating the life we get to live; we take a moment here and there to reminisce a time in the past when we were more whole, more complete, and more alive.
There are fond memories of loving times and in those moments, amidst the surreal entertainments of our minds that this is still just a bad joke, a nightmare, or a negative alternate reality all congeal and take hold of our mind in a moment of vulnerability that can only be imagined as the thoughts of a deer as it stares into the headlights of it clearly shortened future. The sadness is like being taken to a place of utter desolation , a wasteland of loss and brokenness that once held all the love and life of the world. Here in this place we are vulnerable.
Our hearts in this desert are like thimbles that hold a lifetimes allowance of water, who we are has shriveled up into a fetal position of survival holding onto this thimble of life. And then comes the trigger, a trip over a blade of grass, or the casual bump of an elbow by the passing of a stranger. The disruption from successful survival mode to the desperation of a spilled thimbleful of life appears in a moment to be a catastrophic and insurmountable obstacle. A weight so heavy, that succumbing and fading into the burying sand seems more preferable than continuing to move forward.
I had a friend in college who told me the most incredible story that until recently I could not believe. He would spend his summers as a park ranger at a Michigan State Park where his primary responsibility was to pick up trash bags from the beach and toss them into the bucket of a massive industrial front end loader. You know, big as a house, bright yellow, bucket the size of a VW, and tires that were 8-10ft tall. The beast of a machine would articulate in the middle like a dragon rounding on its tail. My friend told me of a time when he went out of the view of the driver and suddenly found himself flat on his back as the front end loader drove right over him. It compressed him into the sand and he recounted how he thought he was going to die until he just relaxed and let events take care of itself.
And this is what triggers are like, a monstrous mechanical being that is too loud for any scream to be heard, a foot twisted and caught under the unstoppable driving force of the oversized wheels, and then the compression of mind and heart by 15 tons of angry steel.
And so it was this simple note (of warning, kindness and remembrance) that was for me a massive industrial Tonka Toy of emotional destruction. The note was from a mom, a mom who had lost her child, a child robbed from family, a child who was a husband and father, all gone because of cancer. And the note, 18 years after the loss of the child held insights into what is yet to come. The big yellow beast does not stop, but as it rolls on and on, but we do not have to be squashed, even when we might want that to happen. And while the hole doesn’t get patched and it never gets better, it doesn’t have to get bigger.