What can you see in this picture? Rijen and I standing in front of our house in Austin, Texas. We are smiling, I’m excited and although we are sad to be leaving Austin and each other, I think both of us are ready to move onto the next phase of our life. This photo was taken right before Rijen took me and the kids to the airport. The kids are already in the car, the luggage securely in the trunk. This photo is supposed to represent our time in Austin together and remind me of one of the many places we have lived during our marriage. This photo was taken on Tuesday, May 8th.
On Thursday, May 10th, this photo changed. It still looks the same to you perhaps. There we are, still smiling, the house looks the same, Rijen’s hand is slung casually around my waist, I’m kind of crossing my foot in front of the other, a little antsy to be getting on the road to the airport, and you can see the camera bag trying to be hidden behind the column.
What changed about this photo is what I see when I look at it now. What I desperately wish you could see now….which is who we were smiling at. There, valiantly standing in the pouring rain, taking this picture at my request, was Layne, Rijen’s little brother. This would be the last picture he would ever take.
I close my eyes and I capture that memory in my head, us looking out at him, standing in the rain, the click of the shutter preserving our memory as we step out into our future.
I close my eyes and picture Rijen and Layne standing in the hallway upstairs, looking at each other for the last time Thursday night, neither of them knowing it, the click of the light switch as they foiled each other’s attempt to turn off the light. A last laugh, a last goodnight, before the light went out.
It becomes hard to reconcile, that some of us, with all of our faults and weaknesses are allowed to continue to step out into our future: to make mistakes, to love, to struggle, to strive– while others are not, their lives tragically cut short. It doesn’t seem possible that he is gone.
It doesn’t seem fair, and then the photo shows me grief, regret, and helplessness. I want to go back to that moment, where Rijen is standing on that step, the children are buckled in their car seats, the luggage resting in the trunk, Layne waiting to help us as I hand him the camera, apologizing that he’ll have to stand briefly in the rain.
I want to rest in that moment, the comfort of it– I want to step off of that front porch and put my hand on his shoulder and tell him how much his family loves him, how important he is to each of us, explain all the plans and ideas and fun times that we wanted for our future and how much we will miss him, how it will never be the same without him. The inside jokes we thought we would continue to trade back and forth, the family events we would celebrate, the conversations about his future.
Whether it was the tiny sliver of time that I had with him, or the lifetime that his family was privileged to have, we all have pieces of our life that will never be whole again without him there. We each will deal with this and seek comfort in different ways according to our faith and understanding of the plan of Salvation.
During such an unexpected and tragic event, I draw comfort from faith and the strength of family, yet inevitably I also struggle with unanswerable questions. For me, I attempt to reconcile this conflict by telling myself that if I can’t understand why this tragedy happened, I must at least learn from it. I owe Layne that much.
What I have learned is to gain perspective once again. It will sound cliche and obvious, but no less true. Life is short. Love your family. Show them and tell them. Be a better person. Think about time differently. I want to focus more on my children and just enjoy being part of their development without worrying so much about what more I should be doing in mine. Be more thankful. Keep striving.
Those who know me well, know I love this poem, which always helps me make sense of sorrow:
On Joy and Sorrow
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.