There’s this picture I took when I was younger after one of the Malibu fires burned up my neighborhood. Charcoaled ground punctured by sharp green needles of grass. You know that old saying, beauty from ashes? I’m here to tell you it’s true.
When my sister, Ellen, was in her last months of life I made her a promise. “When you wear one I wear one,” referring to the diapers she would soon require. The day came, and it was as horrible as you could imagine. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this,” she slowly moan-mumbled. My mom and I held her and cried with her; then we strapped the scratchy, absorbent nightmare onto her graying, atrophied, weary body. I was sixteen, she was fourteen. It’s still confusing, how could the God I know and love allow (or cause) a 14-year-old to feel all those feelings?
Abruptly, her sobbing stopped.
“Now it’s your turn Claire, oh Claire, oh Claire, oh Claire.” Her voice sounded like a weepy Julia Child at the end, I have no clue why. Though it probably had something to do with the decade of chemical and radiological abuse to her brain. She would get stuck like a skipping CD, moaning “oohhh” in front of certain words. “Claire” was one of them.
So I stepped into the same nightmare she did, and did my best supermodel impersonations up and down the hall for her (I am nearly six feet tall, after all). Then a little diaper dance. Her slow, weepy Julia Child laughter barrels down the brightly lit hallway, still. I can still see her head tilted back in that gray hospital bed. A human heart never felt bigger that in that moment. Our tears were transformed. The charred ground that brain cancer and impending death left behind suddenly burst alive with love and laughter. Each cackle and joyful boogery snort punctured the darkness, allowing the solemn scene to morph into a comedy of life and love.
Today I pray over the charred remnants of our lives. If I remember correctly I took the photo less than a week after the flames died down. I don’t know how long you’ve waited for those little green shoots of life to surface again, but I promise you— they will. They have to. Maybe you just need new sight with which to see them? I pray for that, too. Maybe your fire is still raging? I’m so sorry. I will pray for the cleansing and cooling power of a good rain. Cling to the hope that beauty springs forth from ashes. Don’t let go.
And please, do try to laugh a little. No matter how brutal the scene before you, there’s always room for a teary-eyed smile.