I know, winter is beautiful, but I have not heard anyone say so since Christmas. By February in Michigan, it becomes a symbol of incarceration; the steel gray skies are a menacing warden, hovering too close, raining down discouragement and obstruction, mocking our hunger for light.
But there are darker clouds over some of our friends. A man I know took his young son to the hospital on New Year’s Eve. The stomach ache was really Leukemia and, like prisoners, the boy and his parents have spent most of this new year in one room, chained to a bed with respirator tubes, IV’s and monitors.
A teenager at church, widely recognized for her athletic talent, went to the hospital with a sore knee and came out, months later, with no knee, a necessary sacrifice to the cancer that tried to devour her.
We learn something in Wings of Mercy about the need to ache with those who ache, with those who soldier on under darker skies than we can imagine, and for whom the prospect of Spring and a return to ‘normal’ is a very distant hope, and sometimes gone forever. And sometimes, as we enter the life of someone who struggles against darkness, we meet a blinding light
I think of a young father I met on one of my first missions, traveling home to die. There were bitter tears in the eyes of those who helped him aboard and, twelve hundred miles later, there were bitter tears in the eyes of those who took him in their arms as he left the airplane. But in his eyes, there were no tears; just a steady, weary gaze that seemed to say “Thank you” and an occasional nod that said “I’m ok”.
I think of little Jacob who, from some congenital mishap, does not hear or speak. Other profound, though less apparent problems cloud his future but every time I see him the sparkle in his eye lights up the room.
For me, this long winter began to lose its grip on a recent flight to pick up Reilly. A low overcast broods over Northern Michigan and I remember how, on her last flight, she had been so dangerously frail, so focused on her mother for assurance and protection that I wondered if she even noticed us. We leave the airplane at the fuel pump and hurry through the biting breeze to the FBO. There, waiting for us, are Reilly and her mom and, with a skip, Reilly bounds over and welcomes us with a hug.
Perhaps the long, dark winter is a gift, the backdrop we need to be properly dazzled by the gift of warmth and light, a small and fleeting ache that awakens us to the deep and haunting aches of others. We read that “there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
We see in our patients this glorious and sometimes heart-breaking desire to dance, if only the pitiless dark clouds would part for a while. We cannot say why they have been allowed to suffer so. For now, “we mourn with those who mourn”, sharing a little of their pain, preserving a little of their strength. But we know that God is good, that He loves every one of them with His dazzling love and weaves of their lives a story that, as yet, we see only a part. Winter is not a tragedy because winter is not the end.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”
1 Corinthians 2:9