I love alliteration. That matching letter or sound at the beginning of words giving a sentence or phrase a certain dance across the page (or through that grand corridor to the heart). It may be one of the reasons I am especially fond of the Christmas carol, “I Wonder as I Wander.” Even if you can’t recall the remainder of the verse, that first line is a beautiful family of five words, no matter if they are written, spoken, or sung.
Two weeks ago I lost my beautiful cousin, Karol, in a tragic car accident. She and two of her dear friends, Sandy and Lila, all perished suddenly on a sunny Friday afternoon on a prairie highway. When I received the shocking news I gradually became enveloped in a thick fog of confusion.
I was wondering.
I needed to drive my girlfriend home who I had picked up for an evening out. She literally and so graciously had to tell me each turn on the familiar route back to her house.
I was wandering.
As the week passed before the memorial service, I wondered about this kind of stunning, sudden grief. You find yourself suspended in disbelief. It is disorienting.
One afternoon that week, my dear cousin Jan (Karol’s baby sister) called and said “We’re wandering around. Can you help us?” She and her sisters, Peg and Corrine, were looking for a dress shop in a town where they have shopped for years. They admitted they didn’t know where to go. This confession was coming from three sisters who are normally award-winning shoppers. Together we brainstormed the perfect shop just a few miles from where they were driving. I wondered if my friend, Kirsten– an expert pediatric nurse and lover of all things fashion–might be working. Yes, she was. She greeted them with familiarity, empathy, and surrounded them with healing presence and beautiful clothes. Later she told me that she was scheduled in the store for only two hours that entire month and it was those two hours that Jan and her sisters wandered in.
Friday came. Dan and I arrived early at the rural cemetery in Norway Township less
than a mile up the gravel road from my brother’s farm where I grew up. Soon my siblings and I were all there wandering past a family tree of headstones, including my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles, and on and on. As we gathered around Karol’s gravesite with our boots sinking in to the frosty December earth, I suddenly felt less in a fog. This was certainly becoming more real.
The simple and “exquisitely Karol” memorial service was grounding. My mind wouldn’t wonder and my feet wouldn’t wander. I was ready to hear words of hope. In that lovely and familiar sanctuary where I once stood as a bridesmaid for my sister and where for years Karol played the organ and laughed and served and raised her family with her husband, Bill,we were all ready. Ready to hear the rest of the song. Only this one was one of Karol’s favorite carols, “Go Tell it On the Mountain.” We were “singing loud for all to hear” as Buddy the Elf would say, and especially on that last verse of proclamation and promise:
Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation
That blessed Christmas morn.
Certainly in the weeks and months to come we will all slip in and out of that fog of wondering and wandering. You may be experiencing your own grief or loss or some other form of brokenness. My hope is that you find yourself wandering into a sanctuary filled with a community of people ready to walk beside you and meet you in your wondering.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor ornery people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.