The pilot just announced that we’re at 39,000 feet and flying over Rapid City, South Dakota. The man to my right across the aisle is playing an online crossword puzzle. These might be irrelevant details to some. But to me and my aching heart, they are clues that I’m not alone in my thoughts.
During this flight home to the East Coast, no other cities have been mentioned to us passengers. Just this one. And Rapid City just so happens to be one of the few places my grandparents lived in their 74-year marriage. Yes – the same couple I left a few hours ago in Seattle, WA, where the three of us celebrated Grandpa’s 94th birthday yesterday. And where Grandma has taken a liking to online crosswords as a replacement for the paper ones she’s done for decades.
Rapid City, South Dakota.
In the 1950s, my grandfather was a service and marketing engineer with Boeing – the mammoth aviation company. His piloting experience during WWII paired well with his University of Washington degree, and one of his long-term assignments was Rapid City. There, my grandmother was also busy – raising young children, my dad and my aunt.
In Seattle, they had left their brand new home to renters. “And while we were away,” Grandma tells me, “our church tore down its original building and put a new one up in the same place.”
This spring, that ‘new’ church building will be demolished as the congregation christens yet another one on Easter. My grandparents’ ‘new’ home, now 63 years old, has also been sold, and will disappear into the earth as a developer moves in to make use of the prime real estate.
Time marches on. Decisions are made. We collect the mementos we want to save and move forward. But the process rips at our hearts.
Do you ever wonder what might have been – had you made a different choice?
Wondered about the ways that life moves – with or without you?
And how His hand is at work in it all?
Sitting in my dorm room at Dickinson College senior year, in the spring of 1994, I was contemplating life after graduation when I had a thought. A thought I have never forgotten in the 22 years since.
‘What if I moved to Seattle?’
I pictured myself trying to fit in to that city – a place where I had never lived, only visited – since my dad became a military officer and we were assigned elsewhere.
‘I could apply for graduate school at the University of Washington. I could get a Master’s in English. Or go to law school. Or maybe get a job. I could see more of Grandma and Grandpa.’
But I was fearful, and lacked the resolve to throw caution to the wind and move where I had no solid prospects. Or friends. Instead, I accepted a job as a legal assistant in New York City, and headed off on another adventure that ultimately took me to Washington, D.C. and into the arms of my future husband – a wonderful man with whom I’ve forged a life I desperately, desperately love.
But what if?
Sitting with my grandparents this weekend, during yet another visit that is too short and too infrequent, I listen with my whole being. It is beautiful, sacred, joyful time. I want to recapture years. I want to fill in gaps.
I study the details of their faces, try to imprint their voices on my mind, and take copious notes on these people I love beyond words. I try to nail down the essentials and some of the family flavor, but I know the essence of it all is slipping by.
Ultimately, everything I feel comes down to an ache of gratitude and a longing for more. I want to say, ‘Thank you. Thank you,’ every single second, and ‘Please, don’t let it end.’
I hold up fairly well, keeping relatively dry eyes until I’m alone at the airport and suddenly everything spills over like waterworks. The missing them. The missing my husband and kids. The knawing knowlege that you can’t savor any morsel of this world’s goodness forever, eats away at my insides.
What would God say to me now?
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
The promise of life without heartache is a balm to my spirit. If only I could grasp that perfect state here, for longer than a few precious moments at a time.