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My husband started stacking rocks. By the time I came down to the river to check on the gaggle of kids he had with him, there were at least ten rock cairns elegantly balancing in the dancing water.
We were on mission last week. Fourteen of us from Grace. We went to work with MATE (Mission at the Eastward) in New Portland, Maine. We stayed in a cluster of red cabins right on the Carrabassett River. On the first day we were there, my husband received a phone call from his mother. The unspeakable happened. His 16 year old nephew dove into a river and broke his neck. He was alive. His spinal chord severely damaged. Everything stopped. Life changed.
We wept and prayed. We asked the unanswerable and whispered to one another the horrid thoughts that surfaced in our minds. We made phone calls. We were supported in loving, faithful community. And then the next day dawned, because the next day always does. There was more work to be done, children to be watched over, and dinner to be prepared for the crew.
Jon Paul took our children, plus two, down to the river to explore and collect, things children love to do in shallow rivers with endless piles of rocks and frogs and fish. By the time dinner was in the oven, I went down the 100 or more steps to check on them, or if truth be told to check on my grieving husband. I looked over the heads of happy children, all able to jump from rock to rock, remembering that in all likelihood my nephew would never be able to do such things again. And then I saw my husband’s creations.
They were beautiful. Pillar after pillar of rocks, each picked precisely, emerging from the water as if water had miraculously piled them upon each other in the rush of spring. Jon Paul did not look up. Instead he continued to choose rocks from the water and balance them one on the other. I observed him for a silent moment and then called out, “They’re beautiful.”
He replied, “It’s something to do.”
Did he mean it was all he could do? He couldn’t keep his nephew’s blonde head from hitting a rock at the bottom of another river. He couldn’t protect his parents or brother or sister-in-law from unimaginable suffering. He couldn’t fast forward time to a new place where nephew was settled into his new life, whatever life that would be. So he stacked rocks.
But I wonder, did my husband create such beautiful cairns knowing how fragile they were? Was it a defiant act against nature, against God? Did he know how easily his cairns would crash down in the next storm, just as easily as a sixteen year olds’ C5 vertebrae would break? Or did he stack rocks because they were beautiful? In placing rock upon rock did he celebrate the fragile beauty of this life?
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.