broken parabolic



1 March 2010

The past month, perhaps, has been filled with motion. Some things moving madly, others speeding up slightly, and some, perhaps most importantly, just stirring quietly to life.

And those stirrings, those might-be-beginnings, are both promising and frightening, because I don't know how to do this. I've wanted this, even prayed for this, over and over again. And now it might be here, and I'm stricken with indecision and uncertainty.

I knew a girl named Jill once. A quiet sort of thing that mostly kept to herself, but with a uniquely bright smile and a sarcasm that carried no hint of malice, once you got her going. An understated jeans and t-shirt style that kept her from standing out too much and a face that neither wore nor needed any make-up. I don't think she ever knew that I had a little crush on her, back when we were fifteen or so. I think now that perhaps it was the way she didn't stand out that I liked, just grinning at the jokes the rest of us made hanging out in the church basement at youth events, seldom making any of her own.

We graduated, went separate ways. I found out later she went to college somewhere, and took up carpentry in her spare time. I'm told she turned out to have a natural talent for it. That, and an unswerving devotion to both her faith and the compassion it taught.

I don't recall now when the accident happened, or even how many people perished in it; I just know Jill was one. I believe her sister was another. There was a van, a few passengers, and an Alberta highway. I think they were on their way back from Caroline. That's all I remember for details.

What I remember most was her funeral, held at the Alliance church in Spruce Grove because the Baptist church we had attended wasn't big enough to hold that many hundreds of people. People I hadn't seen in years. Paul Kemp came and said hello and told me he was the organist in the Lutheran church on ninety-sixth street now. The day was full of those tense conversations, with people you haven't seen in years, and are happy to see, but not like this. Circumstances, you know.

Her father was surprisingly composed, I recall, as he spoke from the podium. It was clear he was grieving, but he spoke as though he had a peace unheard of in a parent who is in the process of burying half of his family.

They had printed, on the back of the funeral program, a quote that had been found, handwritten and with no name beneath it, among Jill's papers when they cleaned out her room. It read:

When you come to the edge of all you know
And are about to step out into the darkness of the unknown
Faith is knowing that one of two things will happen:

Either there will be something solid to stand on,
or you will be taught how to fly.

Those words never left me, imprinted below the photo of her smiling face in my memory. I've carried them with me for years now. I've seen variations on the quote; I know it wasn't hers, but it hardly matters. It was what she left to me, and to God-only-knows how many others who found themselves in that church that day.

And now, in the midst of these stirrings and the uncertainty they bring with them, those words come to me yet again. And I'm happy, in a way, to be at the edge of what I know, because in this case, what I know will simply no longer do. I'll be happy to walk off that edge once I find the courage to do so, and those words create a stirring of their own in me.

So thank you, Jill. For today, and for all of the other days in the past few years when I needed the memory of your life and the way you lived it. You have not lived - or died - in vain.

Be at peace, child of God.

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