One Blinding Moment
by Max Ellerbusch
I was in my instrument repair shop, working feverishly so that I could have all the Christmas holiday at home with my family. Then the phone rang and a voice was saying that our five-year-old Craig had been hit by a car.
There was a crowd standing around him by the time I got there, but they stepped back for me. Craig was lying in the middle of the road; his curly blond hair was not even rumpled.
He died at Children's Hospital that afternoon.
There were many witnesses. It had happened at the school-crossing. They told us that Craig had waited on the curb until the safety-patrol boy signaled him to cross. Craig, how well you remembered. How often your mother called after you as you started off for kindergarten, "Don't cross till you get the signal." You didn't forget.
The signal came, Craig stepped into the street. The car came so fast no one had seen it. The patrol boy shouted, waved, had to jump for his own life. The car never stopped.
Grace and I drove home from the hospital through the Christmas-lighted streets, not believing what had happened to us. It wasn't until night, passing the unused bed, that I knew. Suddenly I was crying, not just for that empty bed but for the emptiness, the senselessness of life itself. All night long, with Grace awake beside me, I searched what I knew of life for some hint of a loving God at work in it, and found none.
As a child I certainly had been led to expect none. My father used to say that in all his childhood he did not experience one act of charity or Christian kindness. Father was an orphan, growing up in 19th century Germany, a supposedly Christian land. Orphans were rented out to farmers as machines are rented today, and treated with far less consideration. He grew into a stern, brooding man who looked upon life as an unassisted journey to the grave.
He married another orphan and, as their own children started to come, they decided to emigrate to America. Father got a job aboard a ship; in New York harbor he went ashore and simply kept going. He stopped in Cincinnati where so many Germans were then settling. He took every job he could find, and in a year and a half had saved enough money to send for his family.
On the boat coming over, two of my sisters contracted scarlet fever; they died on Ellis Island. Something in Mother died with them, for from that day on she showed no affection for any living being. I grew up in a silent house, without laughter, without faith.
Later, in my own married life. I was determined not to allow those grim shadows to fall on our own children. Grace and I had four: Diane, Michael, Craig and Ruth Carol. It was Craig, even more than the others, who seemed to lay low my childhood pessimism to tell me that the world was a wonderful and purposeful place.
As a baby he would smile so delightedly at everyone he was with that there was always a little group around his carriage. When we went visiting it was Craig, three years old, who would run to the hostess and say, "You have a lovely house." If he received a gift he was touched to tears, and then gave it away to the first child who envied it. Sunday morning when Grace dressed to sing in the choir, it was Craig who never forgot to say, "You're beautiful."
And if such a child can die, I thought as I fought my bed that Friday night, if such a life can be snuffed out in a minute, then life is meaningless and faith in God is self-delusion. By morning my hopelessness and helplessness had found a target, a blinding hatred for the person who had done this to us. That morning police picked him up in Tennessee: George Williams. Fifteen years old.
He came from a broken home, police learned. His mother worked a night shift and slept during the day. Friday he had skipped school, taken her car keys while she was asleep, sped down a street....All my rage at a senseless universe seemed to focus on the name George Williams. I phoned our lawyer and begged him to prosecute Williams to the limit. "Get him tried as an adult, juvenile court is not tough enough."
So this was my frame of mind when the thing occurred which changed my life. I cannot explain it, I can only describe it.
It happened in the space of time that it takes to walk two steps. It was late Saturday night. I was pacing the hall outside our bedroom, my head in my hands. I felt sick and dizzy, and tired, so tired. "Oh God," I prayed, "Show me why."
Right then, between that step and the next, my life was changed. The breath went out of me in a great sigh--and with it all the sickness. In its place was a feeling of love and joy so strong it was almost pain.
Other men have called it "the presence of Christ." I'd known the phrase, of course, but I'd thought it was some abstract, theological idea. I never dreamed it was someone, an actual Person, filling that narrow hall with love.
It was the suddenness of it that dazed me. It was like a lightning stroke that turned out to be the dawn. I stood blinking in an unfamiliar light. Vengeance, grief, hate, anger--it was not that I struggled to be ride of them--like goblins imagined in the dark, in morning's light they simply were not there.
And all the while I had the extraordinary feeling that I was two people. I had another self, a self that was millions of miles from that hall, learning things men don't yet have words to express. I have tried so often to remember the things I knew then, but the learning seemed to take place in a mind apart from the one I ordinarily think with, as though the answer to my question was too vast for my small intellect.
But, in that mind beyond logic, that question was answered. In that instant I knew why Craig had to leave us. Though I had no visual sensation, I knew afterward that I had met him, and he was wiser than I, so that I was the little boy and he the man. And he was so busy. Craig had so much to do, unimaginable important things into which I must not inquire. My concerns were still on earth.
In the clarity of that moment it came to me: this life is a simple thing. I remember the very words in which the thought came. "Life is a grade in school' in this grade we must learn only one lesson: we must establish relationships of love."
"Oh, Craig," I thought. "Little Craig, in your five short years how fast you learned, how quickly you progressed, how soon you graduated."
I don't know how long I stood there in the hall. Perhaps it was no time at all as we ordinarily measure things. Grace was sitting up in bed when I reached the door of our room...Not reading, not doing anything, just looking straight ahead of her as she had much of the time since Friday afternoon.
Even my appearance must have changed because as she turned her eyes slowly to me she gave a little gasp and sat up straighter. I started to talk, words tumbling over each other, laughing, eager, trying to say that the world was not an accident, that life meant something, that earthly tragedy was not the end, that all around our incompleteness was a universe of purpose, that the purpose was good beyond our furthest hopes.
"Tonight," I told her, "Craig is beyond needing us. Someone else needs us; George Williams. It's almost Christmas. Maybe at the Juvenile Detention Home, there will be no Christmas gift for him unless we send it."
Grace listened, silent, unmoving, staring at me. Suddenly she burst into tears. "Yes," she said, "That's right, that's right. It's the first thing that's been right since Craig died."
And it has been right. George turned out to be an intelligent, confused, desperately lonely boy, needing a father as much as I needed a son. He got his gift, Christmas Day, and his mother got a box of Grace's good Christmas cookies. We asked for and got his release a few days later, and this house became his second home. He works with me in the shop after school, joins for meals around the kitchen table, is a big brother for Diane and Michael and Ruth Carol.
But I now know with infinite sureness that no matter what life does to us in the future, I will never again touch the rock bottom of despair. No matter how ultimate the blow seems, I glimpsed an even more ultimate joy that blinding moment when the door swung wide.
I am a little late posting this story for the fourth Sunday of Advent. Hope it is as meaningful for you as it is for me.
Have a wonderful day!