Restlessly, my soul roams from this realm to the next during my early morning hours of sleep. Nirvana, always my destination, remains an obscure shimmering mirage just beyond my reach. As I catch a fleeting glimpse of her distant shores, I recognize this as my sacred place, the province of Unanswered Prayers.
Great waves from the rushing river far below splash upon the huge fallen log making it slippery. In the quiet sigh of the wind, I hear the implicit question. “Are you sure you want this? Are you truly ready for your final journey?” I had been offered a precious and rare second chance at life. It felt like I had spent a lifetime caught in those deep troubled waters. Battered and gasping for air, I clung to the rocks that ultimately had become my prison. The undercurrent, my nemesis, was the very force that could set me free if only I wasn’t so afraid to simply let go. If only I could trust that the force of nature, my creator, couldn’t, wouldn’t destroy me. I had to learn the hard way that control was but a laughable concept born of Ego.
Like a period without a sentence, the unanswered question hangs statically in the air, waiting, “Yes,” I whisper under my breath. Looking over my shoulder one last time, I wasn’t so sure. I knew there would be no turning back. “And, what if you could do it all again, with the gifts born of experience, compassion and wisdom. Would you?” With trepidation I look down at the force of the roiling waves far below. As fear and hope beat wildly side by side in my battered heart, I feel estranged and disoriented by a sudden onset of vertigo. Tentatively I take my first step towards a new destination, this, my answer.
My life now seems like two lives, the one before Chad died and this one. Real and palpable, with emotions raw, sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday; and other times it feels like someone else’s memory. I feel like I am shedding one life for the next, but yet as painful as it is, it is still hard to let go of what was a beautiful life, ending abruptly in a moment of impact. I’ve found peace for the first time in my life, yet I miss the younger me, so invincible. I roamed the most beautiful wilderness areas on horseback, howled at the moon and heard it echo back to me. I enjoyed years of camping and skiing with my kids and great friends. Thought of as fun loving and entertaining, I always dared to dream in pursuit of happiness. I traveled with a different zest and purpose then I do now. I looked for love in all the wrong places and was lucky to have found it in the right ones.
Relatively sedate as a native of the heartland, I could never have discovered the amazing people and things in my life by simple coincidence. One day when I was a teenager, before television was sophisticated enough to broadcast around the world; a thought, actually just one word, came to me. “Vail” was whispered into being out of the blue, perhaps some sort of premonition. I had heard of it but was incapable of envisioning a famous ski town. With only a mild curiosity, I never thought of it again. Without a destination, ironically, it was a series of events that eventually lead me there, my new home ten years later. God had far more imagination than I; but my heart listened. I was less afraid to be daring then; and now, less afraid of dying. The realization that everything can change -forever- in just one potent instant keeps me honest as I embrace life. And, sometimes I just really yearn to be her once more, fearlessly alive with my whole life in front of me. To feel the innocence of bliss and to live her all over again from my new perspective as I am now. I feel blessed to get a second chance as the shadows of time grow longer.
What if there is no ‘out there’ – out there. No place for me to go and nothing for me to do but be my most imperfect and yet precious self. Would carrying my burdens be enough as I march down the road of good intentions? Would I be able to accept with grace that being unbearingly human was all that I had to offer in this lifetime? If I had not stalked existentialism in my youth, if I had not chased Buddhist/Hindu monks around the world while searching the outer realms for my son, and met those who had gone to the “other side” and came back to describe it, how would I have ever found the grace to accept the unacceptable? Perhaps God made the earth round so we can’t see to far down the road.
It started one day when I was very young, this dance with my mysterious omniscient God. Feeling quite humiliated by my first-grade teacher, I found myself on a small knoll kneeling in the tall grass in a place where God could hear our prayers best. I remember distinctly that I was wearing my favorite little gray dress with the tiny white flowers and my black patent leather shoes. I folded my hands in prayer like they taught us. I was telling God that I wasn’t happy. That I wished that my teacher would not be my teacher ever again. I wished she would die. The next morning the principal came into our classroom and informed us that Mrs. Prusha had died during the night. Shocked, I told no one, least of all my mother. Now leery, I would become more distant from this scary God of burning bushes and pillars of salt that I had read about in my Bible School Class.
There will come a time in everyone’s life when believers and nonbelievers alike will collapse to their knees, begging for a sign that there is a GOD up there somewhere, some higher power that cares what happens to us. That can save us. Sometimes, our prayers are answered, and our dreams seemingly come true. We get the job, win the lotto, or marry our soul mate. Most of the time our dreams don’t turn out quite the way we envisioned. And, inevitably, there will be times when no matter how hard and long we pray, accidents happen, parents get divorced, loved ones and pets still die, and people betray us. In the myths of old, it was said that if the Gods wanted to punish us, they answered our prayers. Sometimes, only in retrospect are we able to see the beauty and synchronicities that an unanswered prayer may bring.
In my early thirties, terrified, I flew Flight for Life to Children’s Hospital with my firstborn son. It was all so surreal as he lay, fighting for his life, on a gurney beside me as we bounced wildly through mountain air currents in that small plane. A staunch nonbeliever in God by this time, I felt so incredibly scared and completely helpless. I had nowhere to turn- no God that would hear my prayers. My son survived. He was the lucky one when two other small boys from the mountains died that same week without ever making it to the hospital. I was beyond ecstatic and relieved. Is it just random who lives and who dies? I had my son in and out of the hospital three times before he was diagnosed with Meningitis, the same disease that stole the life of the other boys. Ten days later, my heart was broken to learn that my baby was left with a profound hearing loss. I was a new mother of only one year and my dreams of motherhood and happily-ever- after came crashing down around me.
Thirty-eight years ago, when my son lost his hearing, there was much controversy in deaf education. The “Hearing Impaired” were at that time labeled “Deaf Mutes” or “Deaf and Dumb”, not a very encouraging vision for our future. Over the next ten years I carried the burden of making all decisions for my son’s welfare with little help or real support from “special needs” educators, medical professionals, or my own husband. I just prayed I was making the right decisions, which included a new and dangerous surgery for a cochlear implant when he was eight. As Brandon faltered in local systems that were unable to support his needs, I had to make a hard decision. Even though it broke our hearts, I scraped together the steep tuition and enrolled him in a very well-known residential oral school for the Deaf, focusing on ‘teaching children to speak’.
As brutal as the separation was for me, my children couldn’t understand. Words were just words to Chad, only three years old at the time. Hyper sensitive to my sadness, he always seemed to move spiritually in three dimensions. In retrospect I now recognize that I suppressed my emotions of separation from Brandon by inequitably leaning emotionally on Chad. For at least another two or three years, Brandon would have no concept of language with which to understand why and for how long he would be sent away. His teachers called regularly, concerned for his first few years about how hard he took it when he made mistakes in class or on tests. Only years later could he share that he knew I was proud of his successes and he thought if he could keep getting good grades, it would make me love him….. again. I cried for all those years and all the misunderstandings that I could never take back or fix. Praised for his every success and achievements in my letters and later in person, his was a misconception easily understood. He made the Dean’s List, was an Eagle Scout by the time he was fourteen, spent time with Miss America who was also deaf and was invited to Don Johnson’s home in Aspen for the fireworks. He learned to be independent and to love travel after flying alone from the age of seven. Everyone in the Vail Valley knew my son while I was just “Brandon’s mother” to many. A very determined little boy and young man, my son has thrived. My marriage didn’t. Children of a Lesser God became the story of our life for the better part of ten years.
Despite all the heartbreak and uncertainties, there were so many diamonds in the rough. Randomly, perhaps even miraculously when viewed from hindsight, people who could support us and help with Brandon’s learning skills seemed to just show up at exactly the right time with another piece of the puzzle. One of the people that came into my life became my footprints in the sand. He was able to help me find a different God then the one I had pushed away in my youth, a power greater than me. As vague as that may seem, it was at least something and it changed everything going forward in my life. I would dare say that I would not, could not have survived the things that were looming in my future had I not had Spirit, God or something to believe in. Hope is like sunshine, if you never see it, you’ll never make it through the night.
Most of life’s instances pass us by like a series of images along a byway. But sometimes we are stunned in a moment when life stops us in our tracks. Every part of that moment will live on in us forever, capable of flooding back to vibrant life at a mere suggestion; a vision, a scent, sound or even a song. These moments of impact move us emotionally back through time where we stand trembling helplessly, rolling deep in its embrace once more. These are the moments where for better or for worse, Unanswered Prayers are born.
Albert Camus said, “Blessed are the hearts that can bend, they shall never be broken.” I say that a heart that’s broken was a heart that loved deeply. I wonder, if hearts didn’t break, then there would be no healing. Healing is how we learn, through the struggling that seems to be an inevitable part of life. So, must all hearts be broken? Even the hearts of our children? I feel sure that if I had not been so deeply touched by death, I would not recognize Nirvana on those distant shores. I would have missed the brush of angel wings against my face when my father passed. I would not have been able to accept my son’s release from a physical life into the Omniscient slipstream. And, as painful as it is, I would never in a hundred years have had any idea how to say goodbye to him if I knew it would be the last time.
There have been times that I’ve touched people deeply and times that I’ve made my share of mistakes. I have gained immeasurable empathy throughout my life as I’ve loved and lost incredible friends and lovers. More than anything else, I feel so blessed to have raised two sons, both truly my heroes. They loved me into who I am. They are truly the most amazing individuals I’ve ever known. My heart breaks for kids who must struggle. I wish I knew how to take the hurt away. Frequently we see those childhood pictures, a collage of big toothy grins, freckles and eyes of innocence. It’s difficult to recognize them not so many years later, adolescents on the streets living in a harsh world precipitated by just one moment of impact. They become shadows of their former selves, broken in shame and torn from the guilt of loved ones. They are haunted by demons of substances that possess their minds, own their bodies and steal their souls. The wail of heartbroken mothers and loved ones torn apart, echo around the world. I strongly believe that these same trusting and sensitive little girls or boys of those photos are buried alive inside just trying to survive. More and more often they don’t.
“There is never a guarantee of survival, no matter your strength or skill or wit. There is only the day you are conceived and the day you die, and all else is a series of moments you either embrace or endure.” –Rachel L. Schrade, Forsaken Kingdom
While I’ll never fully understand, I suspect we all have karma to work through in each lifetime, creating and recreating our life circumstances from the karma we bring with us. Just watching the news exemplifies a dose of harsh karmic reality before our eyes every day. While I don’t believe everything is a coincidence or written in stone; nor do I believe that our lives here on this planet are just random and meaningless. I suspect that we are all intrepid survivors just trying to find our way.
Each day since my son died, as a means of survival, I have disciplined myself to disengage whenever I can from that wheel of Karma. I always return to nature and the precious “Present” a place where ego cannot tread. There, its trivial chatter, memories and future plans are nonexistent. Just as a young pre-language child peers through the eyes of wonderment, I push myself to see through those same eyes of mystery and pure innocence. Only silence, inside and out, resonates through this impenetrable domain where ego, always eager to narrate and label my environment, will not find me. Priceless, these are moments when God breathes me. With amazement, these rare and fleeting moments are when I feel his infinite peace, strength and compassion in my heart. I live for these precious moments – when “the present” is all there is. Moments of Impact, whether the best of times or the worst, shatter the boundaries of your story and suddenly you meet yourself there.
So many nights I still dream of my son being here with me, the result of my subconscious trying to make things right again. When I awaken, for a moment it’s all so real. The shock of reality all over again comes rushing back– my Albatross. He’s gone. Except in my dreams, I’ll never see or touch his face again or hear him laugh or say I love you. It’s like tearing the scab off a deep wound again and again just as it appears to be healing. The fresh blood prevents the ugly buildup of proud flesh, the scars that can strangle your heart. God’s nature is to heal. The alchemy of our love and wounds make us who we are.
And, sometimes I still cry out in the dead of night- the question that begs to be asked, “Why God? How could this have ever happened to us? Why does being human have to be so painful?” And, when I am able to open my heart even for a moment, I catch a glimpse of the infinite wisdom in everything that I have experienced, the answered as well as the unanswered prayers.
With my first pregnancy, I prayed for my unborn child to be a boy as I had no idea how to nurture a little girl. I miscarried while on a cross country hut trip. Years later, on my knees for the eight months that he was missing, I prayed that my son would be found. Ironically, I’ve been told by more than one seer that my little girl, Dani, is seen walking with my son Chad on the other side.
I can see them there, shimmering light just beyond the thin gossamer veils of time. In a sea of vibrant colors, hummingbirds and butterflies flit amongst flowers and tall grasses that rustle gently in the breeze. In the distance, I hear the rushing glacier stream as it roars down the mountainside; its echo reminiscent of a great Norther dancing through the pines. Far above the alpine forests lush with ferns and blossoming trees, the peaceful scene is interrupted by a loud cracking noise. I feel the shock-wave move through my chest as suddenly all the birds take flight. A massive slab slowly and methodically calving from the glacier sends shards of ice somersaulting over the head-walls of surrounding cliffs where a dozen waterfalls spill into the grassy meadow far below. Like a bare wire sparking in a storm, the atmosphere crackles as millions of ice splinters tumble in slow motion through the sunshine, collecting rainbow prisms as they go. I know this place of my dreams for I was once there. It was magical beyond belief. I climbed her mountain and stood on her glacier. Exhilarated by the awe-inspiring power of the Tasman Sea, I raced along her empty beaches on a warm-blood named Jack.
One day, whether in body or spirit, I will return. Until then, this is the sacred place of my dreams where I can meet my loved ones. Like footprints in the sand, I can see that my unanswered prayers were God’s answer all along.
He cannot heal who has not suffered much,
For only sorrow, sorrow understands:
They will not come for healing at our touch
Who have not seen the scars upon our hands.
Stigmata: Edwin McNeill Poteat 1892-1955