I feel a profound sense of sadness some days. It’s different than in months and years past. This–this feels permanent. The other days were simply so overwhelming that the emotions essentially short-circuited me. I had no choice but to reboot and try again. And again. And again.
Now, I feel that this new operating system is becoming so old as to be almost obsolete. It’s time for a complete upgrade. But the sorrow holds me back.
Sorrow is like a ground-soaking, steady rain with no end in sight. The drops fall in a steady rhythm without stops and starts. They just keep falling. The sound soothes and lulls me into an almost trance-like state. And I get stuck.
I have asked God “why?” for so long now that it pops out before I even realize it. Why, why why? It’s like that scene from the movie “Steel Magnolias” when Sally Fields’ character is openly, and gut-wrenchingly, spewing out her grief at her only daughter’s Funeral.
I have watched that scene so many times, I can almost quote every line. I silently stand behind one of the bushes at that cemetery, sobbing quietly with the rest of the women. It doesn’t matter that it’s not real. It doesn’t matter that nothing about that situation directly connects to my life in anyway. Except it does.
When Sally Fields starts screaming “I wanna know why! Why!” I become her, screaming out those words myself. “I just want to understand!” But understanding, answers, explanations…they never come. Even in this movie, where a happy ending would have been as simple as a few extra characters typed into a keyboard, the answers never came. Just hollow, echoing sorrow.
Sally Fields eventually says, “life goes on.” How? How does it go on? How is it possible?
That phrase makes me think of an age-old hymn penned in 1873 by a successful businessman named Horatio Spafford. Mr. Spafford and his wife Anna were the proud parents of five children: four daughters and one son. In 1871, that one son became ill and died from pneumonia. Shortly after that, Mr. Spafford lost almost all of his business holdings in the great Chicago fire. Eventually, the Spaffords rebuilt the business and once again it flourished.
In 1873, the family decided to travel to Europe for a visit and made plans to depart from New York. An unexpected business issue arose and Horatio had to stay back, delaying his departure by a few days. Anna and the four daughters went on ahead as planned. Approximately four days into their trans-Atlantic journey, their ship collided with another vessel and in twelve interminably long and shockingly fast minutes, the boat sank, taking with it the four Spafford daughters. Anna alone survived. When she finally arrived in Wales after being rescued, Anna sent a telegram to her husband. It stated, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”
One of Anna’s co-survivors recalled hearing her say, “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. One day I will understand why.”
Recently, a shipwreck washed ashore here in my town.
It was major news in the area and experts speculated the wreckage was from the late 1800s, roughly the same time as the Spafford’s ship sank. It was awe-inspiring and humbling to think of the hands who not only created the ship, but the souls that perished on that ship. It was a powerful moment, wrapped in history, mystery and, yes, why’s. Why did it sink? How many were lost at sea? Why did the ocean keep the secret of this shipwreck to herself for so many decades? Why did she suddenly decide it was time to let go and move on?
I cannot fathom the depths of pain and sorrow that Horatio Spafford experienced as he, too, boarded a ship and sailed directly in the path that would take him over his daughters’ watery grave. It is said he penned these lyrics on the journey to meet with his wife.
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
How? Why?? I don’t think I could ever have that strength to write such words. Was he angry? Did he scream and shake his fist towards heaven in a belligerent gesture? Did he stand on the deck of his own ship, sinking into a puddle of hopelessness? Perhaps. But most importantly, he stood up. And he went on.
This has always been one of my favorite hymns. The sweeping musical score paired with the hauntingly beautiful lyrics touches that place in my soul where music defines me and we recognize each other.
Life is a constant river, flowing and buffeting all of us upon its waves. My goal is to become the kind of person who is able to say in my darkest hours, “Praise the Lord, praise the lord, oh my soul!”
And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul!
It is well with my soul. Life goes on.