Thoughts and hopes the night before the solar eclipse 

It is the night before the total solar eclipse. I am sitting on the porch of a cabin in Bryson City, North Carolina, writing and listening to my brother-in-law playing country songs in his guitar, music that blends perfectly with the mountain air and crickets of this lovely evening. The cabin is called the “Trot In.” It is surrounded by tall trees that encircle a disk of clear blue sky. It so happens that the sun will be visible right in the middle of that patch of sky when the eclipse happens. I look forward to the celestial show but I am hoping for something more than a show, however spectacular. 

This solar eclipse is probably a providential sign of Big Doings. There are many theories that have been put forth by watchers of signs in the sky — war, the end of the world as we know it, the second coming of Christ, a counterfeit second coming to be staged by enemies of humanity, etc. — and I do not doubt it is a sign of something. But I am hoping, probably as Linus hopes for the Great Pumpkin, for a more personal sign– at least that the eclipse might show me something or tell me something or cause me to realize something that up to this point in my life I have missed. 

I am hoping that by driving the eight hours to this place in the path of totality I will find an essential key to the puzzle of life and after it is over, some new understanding will snap into place and things that don’t make sense today will make sense tomorrow. Like why my son Jesse, who would be so fascinated by it and would have so many funny and interesting things to say about it, is not standing beside me on this mountain, watching the eclipse.


Will he see it too? Will he see it from the other side of the sun? Does he know the meaning of it all? Will he somehow clue me in? Does he know things that no one here in earth knows, like why the shadow of moon will travel west to east when the moon generally travels east to west? Does he know if God uses such signs in the heavens as harbingers? Does he know if I will see him soon? 

I will just watch and listen with all my heart and soul and see what happens. Whatever happens I do not think I will be disappointed.

A year without Jesse: Marking the day

Today is one year since the day we found out Jesse had transitioned to the next world. I do not like to say “died” because the word has so many connotations I do not believe: finality, lack of life, ugly things. He, what he is in truth and spirit, did not die. He transitioned, the same as all of us humans have done or will do. If there is one thing that has become more clear than ever this past year, it is that we are not our bodies.

None of this is to say that I am okay with Jesse’s early departure. I don’t know which state of grieving I am in — I wander back and forth in and out of all of those rooms — except the one labeled “acceptance.” I have not gone into that one. Not ready. And although I know Jesse is still the essence of Jesse, I am not okay that his body lies in a grave at Holly Lawn Cemetery next to the Farm Fresh grocery store. I would give my very life to see him walk and talk in that beloved body one more time.

Yesterday, August 7th, the date I believe he really departed, I visited that grave for the first time since the funeral. I just have not been able to go. I had to walk in the park adjacent to the cemetery for several days before I could bring myself to go. Closer and closer every day for a week. When I went I brought a bouquet of bright yellow daisies. I cleaned up some old flowers someone had brought and felt very little that I didn’t already feel. He was not there. Today Tom and I went again with more flowers. We talked about getting a nice head stone, what we want it to say. This is a conversation I never wanted to have and still don’t want to have. But his memorial is important and needs attention.

I remember 20 years ago when we were having our house built in Suffolk and I’d drive out from Norfolk and drive around and dream of raising our little boys in this town, discovering the places to go — how long would it take to get from our new house to Farm Fresh. I didn’t notice Holly Lawn cemetery next door to it. If I had noticed it I never would have dreamed that the little boy, whose every reaction to every new thing in his life I cherished, would lie in a grave in that cemetery by 2017. His body that is….

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August 1997: Moving into the new house
I remember the day we moved into our brand new empty house and four-year-old Jesse ran up and down the stairs and in circles around the family room with his toddler brother and said with wonder in his sweet voice, “Are we going to live here forever?” He did live there all the years of his life on earth except the last one, but lives forever in a place I hope to join him soon enough. Then it will be my turn to run around in joy and be amazed at where we will live forever.

Remembering conversations with Jesse on an important anniversary

Today I found out one of my close co-workers, a man I worked with for eight years, passed away this past Friday. I should say I officially found out. I already sort of knew. Fred was in the ICU Friday morning and was being removed from life support. As I worked on the computer in my living room on Friday afternoon, I suddenly felt that buzz in the air that I have learned to recognize as a visit from the recently departed, perhaps saying good-bye. I felt that buzz the day Jesse died but I did not know at the time he had died and did not recognize the phenomenon for what it was. I wonder – has anyone else had this experience?

I wanted to be sure to write something today because today is the one-year anniversary of the last time I saw Jesse on this earth, July 31, 2016. It was a rainy Sunday with the kind of torrential summer downpours we often get around here, and he was supposed to have come for dinner but had overslept and I had been having a horrible premonitions all day and was worried sick about him and then he came over around 10 pm and we had a long and lovely conversation.

Talking with Jesse was always a delight to me. It was sometimes hard to get him started but once he started talking he always surprised you with the depth and originality of his thoughts and his unique perspective on things. He always knew more about the subject than you realized he knew. And he was so dry and funny! How I miss our conversations and wish I could hear his take on all the crazy current events. It hardly matters what his take would be — the joy would be to hear his voice expressing his unique opinion. The only thing about his opinion I ever cared about was that it was his opinion.

The year Jesse was four years old I kept a journal and then typed all the journal entries into a little homemade book called “Being Four.” I found that journal a couple months after he died. Here are a couple of conversations recorded that year. The first one devastated me when I first found it. It occurred around January 14, 1997. The second one is dated January 31st.

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Consciousness and body: Thoughts and memories

What is this life anyway? Suddenly out of nowhere, as young children, we become cognizant that that we exist. Is there one moment that this happens, like a bolt of lightning, or is it a gradual process? I guess I should not refer to my own experience as “we” because it’s too much to assume that my experience is the same as that of other people.

I remember when I was three years old, watching my Mom ironing, and being acutely aware of existing as a self or consciousness. I wondered if other people were like me – looking at the world from the inside, like looking out of a window – but I don’t remember the exact moment I became aware like this. I have always been aware of myself as a consciousness that interacts through my body but which is a separate entity from the body, dependent on the body to interact with the world but not dependent on the body for existence. There have been times in my life when I was so insanely busy with the activities of life, such as when my kids were in school and sports, that I forgot for years at a time that my self and my body were not one and same thing. But whenever I have slowed down enough to contemplate, I remember and get that awareness again.

I’ve always assumed that other people have the same sense of essential self but now I am wondering if this is an incorrect assumption. For example, I have come across quite a number of people who proudly claim to be pure materialistic atheists. They say they believe this material world is all there is. So then ….. I guess they must not perceive themselves as a consciousness separate from their material body. Otherwise, how could they believe there is nothing other that the world of matter?

I suppose there must be a variety of ways to perceive our own existence, but the only one I can experience directly is my own. Reading and writing fiction – or acting – are ways we can imagine experiencing the consciousness of another person, but we still have to draw upon our own consciousness to even imagine. Since Jesse died I have done a lot of reading on the nature of consciousness and especially near death experiences. From my reading I gather that when some people leave their bodies they can then experience the consciousness of other beings.

For example, in Heaven is Beautiful by Peter Baldwin Panagore, the author tells the story of nearly freezing to death during an ice climbing expedition at the age of 21. During his NDE he experienced all the times he had hurt another person – either intentionally or unintentionally – from the point of view of the other person. So I suppose he was able to experience the consciousness of other people.

 

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Jesse – About 17 months old
When Jesse was born he was like all healthy infants: he could suck and cry and sleep and not much else. Very soon he could smile and gurgle and grasp my little finger. I wondered about his perceptions – whether he was already looking out of his own window – and was excited about seeing this newborn transform into a person with his own thoughts, personality, and memories. I did not have to wait long. I thought about how he would always remember me as his mother and pictured him as an old man remembering his childhood. I felt determined to do what I could to make those memories sweet ones. I never pictured myself remembering him after he was gone.

 

I do believe he remembers me now and I look forward to the time when he and I can remember those sweet childhood days together and together solve the mysteries of consciousness. I am sure of one thing: there is plenty more to find out.

 

Grief is the ocean and hope is the sky

I have become acutely aware of the universality of grief in this world. Since the death of my son, I have naturally become aware of the number of other people whose children have died from miscarriages, SIDS, freak accidents, cancer and other illnesses, suicide, drug accidents, and murder. I feel each death that comes to my attention like a stab and say a prayer for the family and for the soul of the departed one.

Millions of us are aware of how grief swells and subsides like the ocean and never goes away. Perhaps the ocean with its vast area on this earth is the physical symbol of grief, the constant companion of the human race. Maybe that’s why our tears are salty. Only God knows how all the pieces of the human story fit together, but I believe our personal histories – how each fits perfectly into the story of humanity will become clear, probably sooner than later.

This past weekend, Saturday really, my grief swelled to tidal wave proportions. For a while, perhaps a month or so, I had been able to keep the grief at bay, keeping busy with my new projects and trying to “move on” – but there is only so long such a roiling ocean can be kept quiet. I can either let it vent a little each day or I can dam it up for a while and then drown when it forces its release for a day.

By Sunday the storm had died down a bit. But Saturday I could do nothing but let myself be drenched in pure wordless grief. I could not write or work on my Etsy store or read a book or clean house. I could not image any immediate future – only that distant one, beautiful but shrouded in mists. The sky that day was stunning – with giant thunderhead clouds as far as the eye could see in different shades from brilliant silver to blue-grey to nearly black against a deep blue sky. The clouds were so varied and so layered that they looked like vast landscapes of mountains and lakes, only more beautiful than even the most scenic on the earth. I was only able to stare at the sky and wonder at God’s glory, how He designed this exact sky with its ever-changing configurations of clouds and heavenly objects specifically to speak to His human creatures.

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I failed to take a picture of the sky that day. This picture, taken in the mountains about a year ago by Aaron Apple, is nearly as beautiful.
But was it saying? The sky speaks to me of things that are beyond human language. On that day of grief I did not try to reason with God or make sense of Jesse’s early death. I did not seek “growth opportunities” or try to comfort myself with thoughts of eternity. I am clear that the eternal is real and Jesse is still Jesse and I will see him again. All that. But the ocean of grief is what I was experiencing in the present. I just let it wash over me. I had no choice. I could do nothing else.

Whatever human beings are in the eternal realm, God made us in this life and in this world to know each other in these bodily forms, and the bodily form I gave birth to and cherished for 23 years and eight months is gone. There is nothing that can reason away the grief of that. You have to go through the storm and though eventually you will come out on the other side, you will not emerge unchanged. The grief will have permeated every molecule of your being. God tells us through scripture that grief will be turned to joy. That is the blessed hope but it is not the current experience. If the joy to come is in proportion to the grief of the present, then many of us have something magnificent in our futures.

We know so little about heaven, earth, and each other

What can I say about Jesse that hasn’t already been said? I can say that I am sure he has experienced more wonderful things since he left this life than he did between birth and that day 10 months ago when he left the earthly plane.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Corinthians 2:9 (New King James Version)

As long as I can sustain that belief, I can achieve some measure of peace and happiness, but the minute I let unbelief slip through a crack in the door of my heart, it sinks like a ball of lead.

I guess I knew my son as well as anybody, but I also know he was an iceberg, the kind of person who has massive depths but shows only a tiny portion of himself to the world. That is why he was able to continually surprise us. Just seven days before he died he showed me a new website for his campaign for mayor of Portsmouth. This was very surprising and I worried a little. He was only 23 and had no political experience and as far as I knew. In fact he had always been the most non-political person I had ever known – in the sense that he never played anyone to get what he wanted. If he wanted anything he stated his desire directly, and only after he had thoroughly thought it out. His yes was yes and his no was no.

Somewhere on that “Jesse Apple for Mayor” website he wrote a little post. I can’t find it now – much to my dismay – so I will try to remember it: “I know I am young and my chances of being elected are slim. But I want to run anyway. I have lived or worked in Portsmouth since the age of fifteen and have studied politics since long before that.”

Until I saw that post I did not know he had been studying politics since childhood. How I wish I could talk and laugh about the politics going on now. We talked and laughed about the crazy election last summer and then he didn’t live until election day. I know his observations would have been priceless.

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Abstract thought. By Jesse Apple.

10 Months Later: Sorrow and Joy

Jesse’s passing has been an intense spiritual journey for me. All my life I have considered myself to be on a spiritual journey, but the death of my son dramatically deepened and accelerated it. The grief is still always there but sometimes lifts a bit and sometimes crashes down like a ton of bricks.

Yesterday my heart felt sodden with sorrow all day, the floods ever threatening to spill out of my eyes. I was a little confused. Just when I have become more sure than ever that this life is a mere blip in our eternal existence, only a threshold – and as either C.S. Lewis or another guy says, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience – instead of being freed up to feel the joy of this truth, I am once more cast into to hard grip of sucking sadness.

But now the sadness has taken on a different quality than it had in the weeks and months immediately after that horrible day. Rather being focused on the loss of Jesse, it is a more diffused sort of sorrow for the plight of humanity – all the ugliness, coldness, violence, fear, and suffering in a world that God made to be a human paradise. Why is this beautiful world of sea, sky, mountains, and trees not a paradise? The earth is made to provide humans with all we need to live and be happy and yet we choose to fight, kill, grasp at possessions, and do harm to each other.

I believe that “Your will be done, Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven” means pretty much what it says: that one day earth will be restored to its original glory. I believe this fully and deeply and I feel assurance in my spirit that Jesse exists in that other dimension where he is safe from all harm, and a part of my soul is able to rejoice. And yet what I feel most intensely and pervasively is utter sorrow.

 

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Sunset on the road to Pulaski. Makes me think of sorrow and joy.

I take great comfort from the verse that says I will be comforted: “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.” I believe this comfort will be more joy than I can possibly now imagine. It will be a complete healing. It will involve a reunion with Jesse but much more. I take great comfort in the whole fifth chapter of Matthew. Another favorite is “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.” To me this is Jesse’s verse. Few people knew his heart as much as I did and I know his young heart yearned to make things right in the world, or at least better. I believe he is now working with the Lord to make it happen.

I am sure some people will think these thoughts are the crazy imaginings of a grieving mother. So be it. I believe my thoughts are the feeble stumbling imaginings of a mind that cannot begin to conceive the beauty and joy that await all who seek God and His truth.