The seasons are colliding. The calendar says first day of spring but the reality is winter wielding another white whipsaw our way. Talk of lions entering and lambs leaving sounds polite compared to how schizoid the early spring can be. Heavy payloads of snow from pewter skies press down on us with the weight of death.
So many trees get shorn of heavy branches and bushes lie down sideways with the burden Mother Nature relishes dealing out with her late winter storms. Darrin Wigglesworth, a newer member, was grinding down the stump of the big tree lost at the front corner of our church yard when he noticed something very wrong with the big sheltering sugar maple out front, the one with an arm like a saguaro cactus.
The botanical herd is being thinned. A central upward trunk member has failed in that giant sugar maple. Darrin explained these trees only live for 80 or so years. That big guy of a tree we thought would always be there will have to come down. The landscapes etched on our memories as permanent are always in deep flux. Of course, all the many changes are part of a greater plan of growth and new life.
But this is not the only ancient herd being thinned. Most of you have heard that my step-father, Walter Romanow, died a week ago. We learned yesterday noon that Cecile’s mother Jacqueline Pace gasps after her last breaths in these days. Wally at 98, Jacqueline at 93, both were seeming permanent fixtures not only on our landscapes of life, but even upon our way of life. Now they’re being toppled. I say “way of life” because both strove to give us our lives as we know them today.
During World War II Wally enjoyed shore leave in LA with his Navy buddies when something went very wrong. He grew deathly ill until entering the military hospital in Long Beach for an appendectomy. He was depleted and could barely walk out of the hospital. But he left his bed only two days after surgery and got back to the USS Ormsby as it weighed anchor for the Pacific because his sailor friends “couldn’t do their jobs without him.” How many would have used that as excuse to dodge the fiercest naval battle in modern naval history costing 15,000 lives? Wally helped Douglas MacArthur keep his promise, “I shall return.” He repaired the Higgins boats that landed troops and manned the Ormsby’s antiaircraft guns.
Meanwhile, Jacqueline Bertrand was age 15 in Paris when Hitler invaded. Just as children in London were sent to the countryside to protect them, so Jacqueline went to Burgundy for her safety. They didn’t yet know that Hitler would preserve Paris because of its culture, and would ravage the countryside. She was multi-lingual in her teens. When Allied pilots were shot down, they woke her up for translations as the Resistance hid them. She would pedal her bicycle with mail in her basket to deliver info to the French Resistance sleeping in the forest. Once she had a flat tire on her mission and a Nazi stopped her. He fixed her tire and ignored the mail in her basket. Can you imagine her heart beating in her mouth?
I look at their lives and I see towering trees relative to the narcissisms of our age. I ask how Cecile and I can sustain their loss. Again, I look to the seasons, but not winter into spring. I look to Lent into Easter. I look to Jesus unflappably facing into death so that God could give him life. Then he handed life to the rest of us. At life’s most important moments, it’s always to these promises that I must repair.