This summer I finally got around to reading
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. I've been hearing about the book since Michele Lanham recommended it when we were Freshmen (7 years ago?). The book is an adventure story and a love story, a conversion story and a meditation on grief. It's Vanauken's meditation on grief that I'd like to mention here.
Last April, our friends at Virginia Tech experienced a great tragedy. As the VT community mourned their loss, the nation and the world grieved with them. Five months has passed and we're still talking and praying for VT.
Today, VT will take on (and beat?) ECU in Lane Stadium as the Hokies kick off their football season. ESPN Gameday is in Blacksburg, hoping to avoid another lightning strike. CNN had a special report on the start of the VT football season. The media is focusing on VT, again.
And I'm feeling some grief. It's been five months and the Hokie football team doesn't look that bad. But this is the Way of Grief and this is where Vanauken has some insight that might be helpful.
As Vanauken grieved the death of his wife, Davy, he makes some very meaningful observations. The people we know and love are historical and multi-faceted and this influences how we grieve. Here are some of his thoughts:
"The loss of Davy, after the intense sharing and closeness of the years, the loss and grief was, quite simply, the most immense thing I had ever known (p. 187)."
"One of the greatest occurrences of my own grief was the strange thing that began to happen within a day or two of her death. It was the flooding back to me of all the other Davys I had known (p. 185)."
"One is seated in a dark room around the walls of which is a complex mural - the past - and in one's hand is a tiny, brilliant spotlight. As the spotlight touches the mural, one scene leaps into vivid colour and illumination. Foot by foot the spotlight creeps about the walls, down the vista of the years (p. 194)."
"Each memory calls forth warm living reality
once: it is followed by another little death and the tears (p. 195)."
What I take from Vanauken's observations - applied to my friends at Tech - is that events like today's football game will draw old memories to the surface, memories of friends that have yet to be grieved. "How she loved Coach Beamer!" "How he hated the game-day traffic!" And each of these memories - experienced for the first time - will draw forth fresh grief.
Let's pray for our friends at Virginia Tech as they re-enter the school year, experience fresh grief, and experience fresh comfort from God and his people.