Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pink Rainbows and Red Taillights

     Last night, I dreamt I was dying. It was one of those rapidly intense hallucinations where you rush through an entire lifespan in about three minutes and wake up gasping with your heart pounding in your chest. In my dream, an ugly and progressive disease ravaged my body in a matter of moments, leaving me paralyzed and dying. The experience was so powerful that it shook me awake, and when I placed my palm against my pulsating breast, I could feel the palpitations of my racing heart as if I held it in my hand.
    It was not that I feared dying, for I do not, but the dream disturbed me with the intensity, the pace, the helplessness of my death. I awoke in the dark of the night, and as I lay in bed contemplating the experience of dying, my mind sorted through confusing and morbid thoughts. It was easy to understand why I had dreamed the dream, as we had driven back to Richmond to attend the funeral of a dear friend, one who had lost a six month battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. His experience with an unseen foe was heavy on my mind, and my sleeping brain was processing his struggle against an enemy that had captured his body and rapidly torn it apart.
      The mind is funny in the dark of the night, the places it wanders, the thoughts it holds. Something about the dark, the absence of light, leaves one confused and fearful, and as I lay there, counting the vibrations of my pounding heart, the dark recesses of my brain rumbled and churned. So I did what I do when I wake in the night.  I began to pray, and as I prayed, the calm that surpasses all other things washed over my thoughts and comforted my unsettled soul. It was as if the very hand of God had touched my pounding chest, settled my heart, and lifted the film of fear that had enveloped my mind.
      Afterward, as I lay in the dark, I pondered two moments from the trip home. The six hour drive to Richmond had begun after a long day of classes, and it had been a tiring and trying drive in the rain and the dark. We were both eager to get home and get off the road, and as we drove, we chatted about the schedule for the weekend, the visitation,  the funeral, what time to leave for the church. Neither of us were expecting or anticipating our own near-death experience, an incident that happened in the blink of an eye, a sudden disruption in the otherwise  uneventful trip. It was a moment that could have been life-altering, a moment that ended almost as quickly as it had begun, a brief second that left us unchanged yet changed.
       In order to let oncoming traffic merge onto the road, the car in front of us came to a sudden and abrupt stop. Rather than merely slowing down as expected, the red taillights of a braking car flashed before me, and I screamed as I realized the car had completely stopped.  I quickly slammed on breaks, going from 70 to 30 in about 2 seconds, swerved into the adjacent lane, and fishtailed across the interstate as Sissey’s head and shoulder banged into the side of the door.  When I had regained control of the car, my breath, and my senses, I checked on both dog and daughter and realized we had not, in fact, passed from this life to the next. I cautiously began to proceed back down the rain-slickened interstate, trembling hands guiding a steering wheel I had almost torn from the column moments earlier.  Sissey rubbed her aching neck and with a nervous laugh said, “Mom, guess it wasn’t our time to go!”
     The second moment that I pondered was one which occurred shortly following our near-death experience.   After regaining control of the car, as the night progressed and the rain drizzled on, I nervously and cautiously inched down the road. Eager to get to Richmond and the safety of home, I was silently thanking God for preserving our lives but simultaneously contemplating the frailty of that same life. We were headed home for a funeral, one that easily could have been our own, and the propensity of things beyond our control, the unexpected and the unanticipated events that occur without forethought or warning, these aspects of life seemed to scream out to me. The night was darkening as I drove, and I peered tentatively up at the dusky sky, searching for a break in the steady drizzle that had trailed us from South Carolina, through North Carolina, and into Virginia. There, in the evening sky, hovering in the firmaments was a vision such as I had never seen. Stretching from one side of Interstate 85 to the other, against a backdrop of dark storm clouds and glaring halogen headlights, a solid pink rainbow glistened in the air.  A neon pink arc, an intense sweep of color painted in a bold stroke against a setting of storm. It seemed appropriate at that moment to remember a promise made by a loving God, a Father who will be with us through calm and storm, through life and death. So without forethought or fear, even after my close brush with death moments earlier, I drove down Interstate 85, in the dark, in the rain, snapping picture after picture with my camera propped on the steering wheel of my car.  It was a risk worth taking, to capture that sight in that sky on that night, and  I smiled as I calmly drove on home.
      I do not know what those of no faith do when facing conflicts of life and death. I do not know what hope they cling to, or what calms their storms, or what eases their fears in the dark of the night. The sustaining power of a compassionate God, the promise of an eternal life, the gifts of grace and salvation and forgiveness and love—these are the very foundations that uphold me as I weather the inevitable tempests of life, this is the hope I cling to in the storm.  
     That evening, as I lay in my bed after frightful dreams and wandering thoughts,  I remembered that bow,  and I slept.

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