Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Last Road Trip

Dear siblings and kids,


It is one of my favorite memories. During the first five years of our marriage as a newly married young couple and before we had any children, we would read to each other before falling asleep. What did we read you ask? Well, it was two of the great story tellers of our time. We read through The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien and The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Little did I know the power and ability to communicate through story, to give place and meaning.

               The Last Road Trip

Carol loved road trips. It was all planned. My contract was ending and we were to leave the following week for another road trip. We would go southeast to Arizona to visit Chris and family, then on the the midwest to visit friends and then to Wyoming and family. Our road trips ranged from short ones of 2,000 miles to longer ones of 4 to 5,000 miles. This time we were concerned about being out of our medical plan area because the pain in Carol's arm was becoming increasingly troublesome.

We were set to leave on Saturday, but on Thursday, we got the diagnosis of cancer in her arm. That Friday as I was commuting to work to turn in my computer and contract materials, I was listening to an audio version of the last book in The Chronicles of Narnia. In the same way that the characters in the story were transitioning to a new story, I distinctly had the impression from God that I would not be returning to the work world, but that Carol and I would be going down a very different path, a different adventure.

It turned out to be another road trip, just not the one we had planned. It was a trip of 6,512 miles and took a year and 2 months. Yes, that is how many miles we traveled together to doctor appointments, medical tests, blood work, hospital visits for MRIs, PET scans and biopsies, chemo and radiation treatments.

It wasn't a road trip where you watched the scenery and took interesting side trips. It was more like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day where the same day keeps repeating until he re-examines his life and priorities. We traveled highways 85, 101 and 280 over and over. It became automatic. We didn't look at the scenery. It narrowed and became an interior trip together. We listened to a lot of music. Our conversations turned to, "This song has come to mean a lot to me. How about you?" It was subtle, but we found ourselves re-examining our lives in terms of a reality that wasn't outside the truck but inside with us.

These regular trips became the new normal…it was what we did together. We listened to the same songs together over and over. If you know the tune, sing along.

    The Lord is my light and my salvation.
    The Lord is the strength of my life….
    So I will not be afraid…

    Many times like a child I come to you with a broken heart
    And every time you are there to ease the pain when the journeys hard.
    You comfort me, in every trial, You comfort me.
    You walk with me and every mile, You comfort me.
    Even in the darkness I can hear your promise, I am with you.  
    And even in the fire, You will lift me higher. Lift me up to you.
    You comfort me, in every trial ….

I've written earlier about looking over at Carol and seeing her completely enveloped in God's presence as she hummed and sang with the songs. Yep, wouldn't have missed the trip for anything.  I came to realize that Carol had deep roots in God that was the result of years of walking with Him.

Yet as I listened to her sing, I often felt like Sam in The Lord of the Rings books. Sam was Frodo's constant companion and encourager as they went on their journey. That too was my role, to go on the journey with her. The ending to The Lord of the Rings closely describes the ending of the road trip for me. Think of Carol as Frodo, me as Sam and Keri, Chris and Kelly as Merry and Pippin. Here is a shortened version:

"It was evening, and the stars were glimmering in the eastern sky as they passed the ruined oak and turned and went on down the hill between the hazel-thickets. Sam was silent, deep in his memories. Presently he became aware that Frodo was singing softly to himself…

      Still round the corner there may wait
         A new road or a secret gate;
      And though I oft have passed them by
         A day will come at last when I
      Shall take the hidden paths that run
         West of the moon, East of the Sun.

Frodo and Sam halted and sat silent in the soft shadows, until they saw a shimmer as the travelers came towards them…   Elrond greeted them… Then Bilbo woke up and opened his eyes, 'Hello Frodo!' he said … 'I think I am quite ready to go on another journey. Are you coming?'

'Yes, I am coming,' said Frodo. 'The Ring-bearers should go together.'

'Where are you going, Master?' cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening.

'To the Havens, Sam,' said Frodo.

'And I can't come.'

'No Sam. Not yet anyway,..'

'But,' said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, 'I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years,…'

'So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt…'   ' Come now, ride with me!'  And when they had passed from the Shire, going about the south skirts of the White Downs … and looked on the distant Sea … to the Grey Havens in the long firth of Lune.

Then Cirdan led them to the Havens, and there was a white ship lying, and upon the quay stood a figure robed all in white awaiting them…

But Sam was now sorrowful at heart, and it seemed to him that if the parting would be bitter, more grievous still would be the long road home alone… as they stood there … up rode Merry and Pippin…

Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went aboard; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth…

But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West… Beside him stood Merry and Pippin, and they were silent.

At last the three companions turned away, and never again looking back they rode slowly homewards; and they spoke no word to one another until they came back to the Shire, but each had great comfort in his friends on the long grey road.

At last they rode over the downs and took the East rode … Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill… He drew a deep breath, 'Well, I'm back,' he said."

We traveled 6,512 miles together on our last road trip… at the end, our roads diverged. Carol went on to the Havens.  We can't go there yet. We are back where the trip started. But we have hints at what was at the end of Carol's road trip. It is described in the last pages of The Chronicles of Narnia. It goes like this:

"Then Aslan turned to them and said:
'You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.'

Lucy said, 'We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan.  And you have sent us back into our own world so often.'

'No fear of that,' said Aslan. 'Have you not guessed?'

There hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

'There was a real railway accident,' said Aslan softly. 'Your father and mother and all of you are--as you used to call it in the Shadowlands--dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.'

And as he spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."

Carol and I have had many road trips together. They were beautiful trips. Our longest trip was as husband and wife and was 49 years, 3 months, and 29 days. Our last road trip ended too soon. It isn't the same without her.

Tearfully …. George

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