Through the Valley

cemetery

 

One of my son’s favorite places to visit is the cemetery.

We walk there from our house (it’s our nearest “park”) and, once past the enclosure fence, my son crawls down from his stroller and pushes the stroller around like a life-size toy car.

There’s a fountain under a huge old fir that we call my son’s fountain.

Flat headstones make level ground which is easier to navigate than the lumpy soil and sod. It’s common to see my son leap from stone to stone, his shoes slapping happily as he runs.

There’s a special section on a hill covered in pinwheels, balloons, and little toys. Babyland. I once read a book that described such a section of a cemetery and it said, “By the waters of Babyland, we lay down and wept.”

This particular area used to break my heart. Then my son insisted on exploring it. So, I followed him between stones that noted lives that had lasted one or two days. Babies with names who had not grown old enough to recognize them.

And while my heart rose to my throat, my little guy strode on, picking up pinwheels and spinning them to flash in the sunlight. He crouched to smile at a teddy bear, droopy and sodden from many nights out in the rain. And I was reminded that we all walk through the graveyard of loss.

No matter what direction we try to take.

I can grieve. (Grieve and grave seem like word-siblings. I only just now see this). And there will be times when I cannot rise from my knees. But this will not consume my days. I will pass through the cemetery. I will intimately know some of the names carved on those stones.

But, like my son, I must also raise my eyes. To delight in the sparkling water fountain, the blanket of lawn daisies, the luminous leaves of the grand old maple.

At an Ash Wednesday service, a woman from my church read a poem, the essence of which plead this passionately: in the face of war, cruelty, torture, brutality, racism, starvation, and death, we cannot forget to laugh, dance, throw lavish parties with our friends, and delight in the blessings of the earth.

I think of the film, Life is Beautiful, and I glimpse the courage to be joyful in the face of the unspeakable. I watch my son’s innocent playfulness as he touches a toy sitting on a baby’s grave.

These things keep us strong. These are what we mean by the word brave. These are the songs I must find the strength (Jesus give me the grace) to sing.

These are the songs I must sing.

About Elise

Elise Stephens began her career in writing at age six, illustrating her own story books and concocting wild adventures. She earned her degree in Creative Writing at the University of Washington. Stephens counts authors Neil Gaiman, C.S. Lewis, and Margaret Atwood among her literary mentors, and has studied under Orson Scott Card. She dreams often of finding new ways to weave timeless truths into her stories. She is a recipient of the Eugene Van Buren prize for fiction. Her novels include Moonlight and Oranges(2011), Forecast (2013), and Guardian of the Gold Breathers (2015). She lives in Seattle with her husband and son. Follow her on Twitter @elisestephens

Comments

Through the Valley — 4 Comments

  1. By the waters of Babyland, we lay down and wept…It was here that I burst into tears. Yes, losing a baby is a singular grief. You were the child that pulled me from my despair. You were the proof to me that God was good. I had to walk through the valley of that doubt. But the love and life of God poured through your little arms, your kisses, your sweet songs. You gave me the reason to keep putting each foot in front of the other until I came out of that dark valley. God certainly works through the young ones that have just come from him! This is yet another reason that I am thankful for George Liam in your lives. Bless you on this journey! You ARE a brave one!

  2. Good post, thanks Elise. I confess a fondness for graveyards myself, your son clearly does too. Hope you can set aside the dark days.

    • I think some of the “beauty in between” is that my son brings brightness and joy to me even on the days when I don’t want to see it. Love is funny like that… :)

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