Monday, April 27, 2015

The House in the Orchard

I’ve read the entire Little House on the Prairie series to my girls twice. The first time they were four and two and I would lie in bed with them each night reading a chapter or two before they drifted off to sleep. I was drawn in, night-after-night, to the struggles and triumphs of the Ingalls family with their tiny daughters and big dreams. As Laura grew and fell in love I joyfully read of her courtship with Almanzo and the beautiful life that lay before them. And then I continued, unknowingly, into the final book of the series, The First Four Years. I only later found out that this book was never intended to be a part of the series, its content too painful and sad for many young readers. However, since I was not aware of this fact, I began merrily on my way one evening into the first four years of Laura and Almanzo’s marriage, I read it straight through, aloud, sobbing the whole way. With all of the anticipation and excitement that came with their new life together, there came much tragedy. [Spoiler Alert] Almanzo becomes sick with an illness that leaves his strong body debilitated. Their baby boy dies. And the beautiful home Almanzo has built for Laura in an orchard he has planted burns to the ground. We end with Laura sitting in the grass, cradling her daughter, watching her house and all of the hopes for her future burning. Truly depressing.
The problem with The First Four Years is entirely the problem of real life. One needs only scroll through their Facebook feed for a few minutes to read of the heartbreaks of everyday living; infertility, illness, accidents, not to mention jobs that don’t satisfy, spouses who leave, parents who become ill, and loved ones who die. It’s nothing anyone should be reading to their children at bedtime… aloud… sobbing.
Of course before the age of social media we all could come up with our own host of stories to tell of the proverbial burning houses amidst a hopeful orchard; My grandmother’s father was killed in a car accident when my mother was just a toddler, my brother suffered with a bone tumor before he had even started school, a coworker lost his son to an accident, another lost his wife to an aneurism, my brother-in-law was sent to Iraq, and all of our grandparents could tell of living through a World War and the terrors that brought even in the middle of the United States far from the front lines.
I think it was summarized most poignantly at my five year class reunion when I stood awkwardly beside a fellow classmate who just said, “Damn, this whole life thing is a lot harder than I thought it would be.” Indeed.
Here’s the thing I want to do about it: wrap the entire world in a protective bubble wrap ala Danny Tanner when DJ learned to walk, according to his own account. Or, another option I’ve considered, preferred by engineers and the generally analytic: bury my head deep in the sand, far from Facebook, friends, news and any pain I may myself be feeling. Of course I could always cover my eyes with other distractions besides sand, such as wealth-chasing, game-playing, or child-raising (which, if you know me you know is my current favored option).
Until recently I was satisfied with my daily distractions from life’s deep struggles. I have been on a good run of health, paying off debt, birthing more children… praise be to God. I discontinued my listening to BBC World News and its brutal stories of struggles around the globe, and I’ve become so entrenched in my work life that I’ve let friendships dry up to the point of simple pleasantries but not too much difficult sharing.
And then my friend got sick, terribly sick, and his wife listened calmly as she heard news that will change her life. And his children played sweetly waiting for daddy to get home. And the First Four (err nine or so) Years of a life together are beginning to look like a burning house in the middle of a once-pleasant orchard. And I hear my classmates words “this whole life thing is a lot harder than I thought it would be.” And I want to sob, but I’ve become quite out of touch with my feelings since feelings are painful, and this is especially so.
I’ve sat in this spot for ten days, wondering how to respond both to the immediate needs and to the larger looming reality that life is difficult and sad and can surely overwhelm if not careful. I continue to wait on a divine revelation that makes everything clear and gives me answers to each pain and struggle and hurt. And truly I tell you the answer only comes in echoes bouncing off of simple, everyday things like a caring smile, a baby’s belly laugh, a hug, a prayer, a text asking “have you heard anything new today?”, and post after post uniting a body of believers in a single task of crying out to God on behalf of a friend. I’m beginning to understand that connections to one another, hearing each other’s stories, bring tremendous pain but even more profound joy. That it is worth wading into the struggle because the load is lightened for us all when we share the journey. This is why Jesus found a group of twelve, and commissioned a church, because we need one another – it is part of the redemption plan.
Life is much harder than Laura or I ever expected. We live in a broken world full of sin and illness. But we are Easter people. Our hearts ache for a world that is made new because it is so very near, until that time we must lend a smile and a prayer and hold a baby now and again for one another.

“The real things haven’t changed.
It is still best to be honest and truthful;
to make the most of what we have;
to be happy with simple pleasures;
and have courage when things go wrong.”
~Laura Ingalls Wilder


Anonymous said...

This was beautifully said. I would like to read The First Four Years again now as an adult (I've even had my house burn down!). I think I'd understand it a lot better now. Prayers for your friend and her husband.

Dana said...

Absolutely beautiful and poignant. My prayers join yours.