calamity of nature

Don’t tell me that the Lord works in mysterious ways.

I lick ice cream and cookie crumbs off the ends of each birthday candle, wash them and carefully put them back into their box for future use (for Calvin?) and as I do I think of the eleven-month-old baby boy whose death his parents are grieving and whose life and first birthday they’ll soon be celebrating, though without him in their arms.

Late last month the child, whose parents and grandparents live in our community and are friends of friends, choked on a pebble and died. Since first hearing of the tragedy I cannot get the boy and his parents out of my mind, and I bristle at the thought of well-wishers telling them that everything happens for a reason or that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. I hope that his parents can survive, because part of them has died.

At the boy’s funeral, the reverend said that loved ones might never regard a pebble in the same way again. I cannot imagine them regarding anything in the same way because since Calvin's birth and subsequent diangoses most everything—people, places, things—has taken on a different significance for me.

Life is a crapshoot.

The reverend also urged friends and family to embrace the fact that the child had lived a full life, rather than simply seeing a life cut short. When a friend who had attended the funeral relays this message to me, my skin prickles with what feels like tiny icicles. I think of my son Calvin whose risk of death, because of his epilepsy, is three times that of most other people, his risk of accidental death twenty-four times greater. Despite knowing this I try, though I often fail, to keep fear at bay and focus on his quality of life—our quality of life—rather than his quantity of years.

The earth has music for those who listen.

When Michael holds Calvin on his lap and kisses him into a fit of giggles, I take a deep, satisfying breath as a smile creeps across my face. I feel grateful for my growing boy, grateful for my little family, grateful for my friends who tell me that they thought of me and of Calvin in the wake of the baby boy’s death. I am reminded that bad things happen to good people—for no reason—but the upside is that, over time, some of us can find purpose and goodness. We can choose to see the richness and fullness in our lives which are shaken by the uncontrollable calamity of nature. I hope that, one day, the same can be true for the mourning parents of the little boy who died.

photo by Michael Kolster


  1. I hope so too. Your thoughts are so rich in comfort and support they have to be. Only someone who has breathed in the journey can share such thoughts.....

  2. When my girl was diagnosed as handicapped, she was fourteen months, although we'd known for a long time that there was something wrong. For me, my daughter died that day. Not my real daughter but my dream daughter, those children that are born to us when we first find out that we're pregnant. That child who will grow up, and do everything fantastically, who will be a success, who will be confident and kind and loving.

    Usually these dream children die slowly, in bits, when our three year old calls her brother a "bag of shit!" at the dinner table, when your son lies to you about drinking or using drugs, but with a handicapped child, that dream child dies overnight and it is a loss.

    It took me years to get over the loss of my dream child for Katie. I did but she still lingers sometimes. I wonder what Katie's voice would sound like if she could talk. I wonder if she would have liked school and reading, wonder what kind of boys she would like. I imagine that young child that died will live on in his parent's imaginations until they die.

  3. Oh, what a terrible thing to have happened. I can never fully understand why people can't stop at the terrible and sit in it for a while, at least, before tacking on explanation and meaning. For me, there is no meaning other than the meaning that comes AFTER, and you've described that quite well.