We attended an Easter sunrise service on a day the sun did not rise, not noticeably anyway. Instead, at 6 am snow was falling heavily from a dark gray sky. Some friends with property nearby have a tradition of erecting a cross on a hill and inviting others to trudge up it for an early morning service. There were 40 of us in all, 17 kids and 23 adults, as well as a few dogs chasing each other and a corral full of curious horses next door. Three of us couldn’t easily trudge: a teenager with a rare genetic disorder that has damaged his motor nerves, a woman with muscular dystrophy, and me in a neck brace that makes it difficult to look down and negotiate snow-covered fields. Someone brought a Hummer, though, which transported its disabled cargo straight up the white hillside, just as they show in the television ads.
“It’s like the witch in Narnia who makes it always winter,” one of the kids remarked as we stood shivering; last year’s service called for shirt sleeves. A coating of powder soon covered hats and parkas and the xeroxed song sheets we were holding. I had just returned from a trip to Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina, where every bush and tree was ablaze with color, but on this day in Colorado, Spring seemed very far away.
I’ve thought of that scene often this week, the week that follows Easter, a day that in some ways changed everything and in some ways not. “It’s Friday but Sunday’s comin’!” Tony Campolo famously preaches. Yes, but after Sunday had come and gone, some of the disciples still doubted, the Roman Empire rolled on oppressively, and Jews and Gentiles alike continued to live in poverty and die. Easter is a marker we desperately need, a promise of a world aborning and not dying—and yet how hard that vision is to sustain.
I know, you just wondered how I was recovering, and here I go waxing philosophical. There is a connection, I promise. For two weeks after the accident I walked around in a “daze of grace,” looking at the sky, trees, grass, my wife, my friends, with newly washed eyes. Life holds surprises around every corner, fresh promptings to gratitude and joy.
Then the sleepless nights in a neck brace began to take their toll; woodpeckers hammered holes in the west wall of our house; in an electronic conspiracy the television, microwave, and refrigerator all stopped working. Life also grinds you down.
I am trying to keep before me the crystalline vision I had while lying strapped to a backboard for seven hours. What we spend so much time and energy on (finances, image, achievement) matters so little when you face the very real possibility of imminent death. What matters reduces down to a few basic questions. Who do I love? Who will I miss? How have I spent my life? Am I ready for what’s next? So, how do I keep those questions in the forefront as I come to my desk each day and face piles of paper and blinking electronic messages? How do we sustain the vision of Easter on the other 364 days a year?
I have learned how thin is the thread that separates life from non-life, and how comforting is the knowledge that I am not alone on this journey. I have learned these things in a way that I doubt I will ever forget. I thank all of you who have prayed and sent messages of encouragement.
The 10-day trip to the Southeast was something of an experiment, and mostly it went well. Standing up and speaking for three hours straight is not a good idea, I found, and the twists and turns of greeting people and signing books creates a strain. I spoke at the University of Mobile and at the Bible College where Janet and I met (on the topic, “What I Wish I’d Known as a Student Here”), and Janet and I both got to visit our families. Then, in an act of pure grace, an angelic reader managed to get us tickets to opening day at the Masters. Funny how walking around a beautiful golf course for eight hours is suddenly tolerable, especially when it’s the fabled Masters. One long hole, where we hung out for the better part of an hour, is lined with 1600 azalea bushes.
I have an appointment with the neurosurgeon on April 30, at which time I’ll learn if I need surgery on the discs and ligaments. If all goes well I should start weaning myself away from the neck brace too. Each day I’m feeling less disabled and more normal. I exercise by walking and using a reclining bicycle in the fitness club.
Janet has made enormous adjustments in her schedule, taking on the roles of personal chauffeur and caregiver. She tackles necessary tasks—such as climbing a high ladder to fill woodpecker holes and shoveling the drainage ditch beside our dirt driveway—with energy and a minimum of complaint. It’s not easy for me to stand by and watch her climb on the roof to assess the damage a raccoon just did to our eaves in search of a warm home, or to let her drag both of our suitcases through the airport lines. All in all, though, our marriage has flourished. We’re grateful for each other, and for the prospect of more life together.
My mind goes back once again to that scene early Easter Sunday as our motley crew of crippled and healthy alike huddled together in the snow listening to familiar passages about the shock of resurrection, a shock that produced both fear and joy. An Easter egg hunt awaited the kids; some of the parents were no doubt thinking about their contributions to the brunch. Had they brought enough? Did they remember serving implements? And afterwards, would their car make it down the slippery, curving driveway?
Yet even as we stood there, singing songs and reading from the Gospels, snow worked its magic. Mud-splashed cars, Ponderosa pine trees, rocks in the field, a wooden fence, even the cross—for a window in time, the snow covered every imperfection, and all glistened white.