Friday, September 20, 2013

Writing in the Sand

     I grew up in Oregon, about an 1-1/2 hours from the coast.  And I had an aunt and uncle who lived right on the Washington coastline, about a couple of hours away.  Their place was our "default" long weekend away.  In other words, I spent a lot of time at the beach.  But this was the Pacific Northwest!  We spent a lot of time at the beach (i.e., not in the water!).  Being at the beach meant clam-digging, shell-hunting, and sand-writing.  Like most kids who have spent time at the beach, there was always a race to finish the sand-writing, or sand-drawing, or sand-castle-building before the tide came in and washed it all away.  Yet it was inevitable.  The waves would slowly move higher on the beach; nothing could "save" my artwork (few parents would waste their Kodachrome on such things -- not so with with digital cameras!).
      I've thought a lot this week about my time on the beach, drawing, hunting, watching my footprints wash away.  The reason?  The book group I host on a monthly basis this month read Izzeldin Abuelaish's I Shall Not Hope:  A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity*.  In the opening chapter of the book, Dr. Abueliash tells of an outing to the beach in Palestine with his children.  It was only several weeks after his wife and their mother had died of cancer.  He felt that such an outing would do the family good.  Abuelaish wrote:

That day they all sat for photos besider their names in the sand.  Even Aya and Mayar smiled into the camera.  When the tide came in and washed their names away, they wrote them again, farther up the beach.  To me, this action was highly symbolic of their tenacious, determined nature, one that I recognized in myself.  They had the ability to look for alternatives when situations seemed impossible; they were claiming this tiny piece of land as the own--because they believed that they belonged here and did not want to be erased.**

In a few weeks, Aya, Mayar, their older sister Bassan, and a cousin, would be killed during a tank shelling of their home.  The book is an account of what enabled their father not to react out of hatred and vengeance in a land where that was the norm.
      Abuelaish was faced with an incredible loss.  Something, however, in his life and faith would not let him be overwhelmed.  Throughout the book he writes of "turning bad into good" . . . and he had ample opportunities to practice that maxim.  It is an amazing story.  (If you search for his name in YouTube, you will find many hits.  I recommend the TEDxWaterloo video.)
      The story of turning bad into good is a story I've heard several times this week as well, as other people have faced incredible losses.  The airwaves and print media are full of accounts of folks who've lost their homes in the Colorado floods.  Many are dejected, as could easily be expected.  Others, however, are more forward thinking (as have been folks who have experienced our fires in the last couple of years):  "We'll rebuild.  It'll take a while, but we'll rebuild.  This is our home."
      And last Sunday night, at the memorial service for two fraternity brothers tragically killed in a house fire in Connecticut a month ago, the mood, while somber, aimed at the positive.  One of the boys' parents, in a letter to the gathering, wrote:  "Keep [these boys] in your hearts and live your lives in the moment--with great enthusiasm and love, love, love."  The other boy's mother wrote:  "It is the wonderful memories that we need to hold close to our hearts now.  [He] would want no tears or heartache.  [He] would want celebration and togetherness--laughter, love and joy."   Another letter urged the attendees to "use their tragic deaths . . . as a reason to be the best person and leader you were born to be and encourage those around you to do the same." ***
      Our lives are full of "writing in the sand" moments; indeed one might say WE are writings in the sand.  Something inevitably will wash over us:  a broken relationship, a unexpectedly poor grade, a death.  The challenge is whether we will be "overwhelmed", or whether we will move "farther up the beach", looking "for alternatives when situations [seem] impossible".  I am so encouraged by those who've suffered such great losses -- Abuelaish, the flood victims, and the parents of the young men -- how they, in the midst of their pain, can see a way forward, and encourage others to do the same.
      May I honor their charge, and never stop writing in the sand even when I know it will be washed away.

Chaplain Gary

* (Walker & Company, 2010, 2011).
** p. 14.
*** An article about the memorial service was published in this week's Clarion, DU's student paper.  It can be accessed on-line here.

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