Yesterday, somewhere south of Santa Barbara I slipped on headphones and pulled up The Ventures on my Iphone. Mary was driving, and she was easily doing 75. The great blue plate of the Pacific Ocean stretched out on my right, penned in by the blonde-and-black, two-tone arc of the sand and the highway.
I’m 54, but the music made me feel eight years old again. It was a television memory of 1968 — Diamond Head, an impossibly large wave, a stunning Polynesian beauty on the beach in a bikini, who seemed powerfully self aware, with her dark eyed stare, that she represented a mystery all eight year old boys were considering, without being able to articulate: where would life lead me? What was life after all? Would you pick the right wave, and would you ride it, or would it crush you? Was the girl in the bikini a part of all this? Why did she seem so compelling and dangerous at the same time?
Never mind, of course, that I was remembering Hawaii Five-O, a kind of so-so tropical crime drama. God was still in the architecture here. He crafted the watery blues and yellows of the beach pebbles, and the gravitational pull of the nameless beach queen. He drew Diamond Head with His immense imagination, and the terrible beasts of the sea, and even now, He authors the sweet memory of my parents, now gone, who loved this paradise enough to take quiet pleasure in taking me to see it for the first time.
I’m not writing about Hawaii, mind you. I’m pondering life and how damn short it is. My Iphone mix moved on to Danny’s Song — a Kenny Loggins tune I link to my sister Susan, and her husband, Frank, when they were newlyweds, up in Stanley, Idaho. Their first child, Jessie, was born shortly after my sister Colleen’s death. She died on the road, on her way to visiting them, when she was 27 years old. It was 1976, and the family always wondered whether the souls of Colleen, and her sister’s child, Jessie, passed each other on the way, to and fro.
Behind me, in the rented Easter camping RV, were my own children, and their friends, grown tall, strong, handsome, and beautiful now (ah, the snare of time). Most of them were sleeping. I was listening to the music of my youth, and I was wondering — “have I gotten it all in?” “Have I packed enough into this life? I never got to be a Venture, after all. I never even got to be a member of The Cars. There’s something pretty primal, and pleasing, in being able to sing “she’s my best friend’s girl,” and see some beautiful groupie out there in the audience nodding a remedy.
All those hot, youthful celebrations we imagine, where we tell the funniest story, or we endure the greatest danger, or we build the most effortless fortune: it all shrinks away into a vanity because it is over so horribly fast. (Colleen, my sister now almost 40 years gone, once confessed to me that she felt a little cheated by not ever having lived a Beach Boys summer, but knowing how much she loved us, how often she took us out to play tennis, and watch movies, and genuinely talk to us, as little boys, I realize how keenly she was really living..)
A song I just adore started playing — Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea.” It sends me. I mean I just start tapping, and humming, and I don’t care if anyone thinks I’m a fool. It’s just joy. But then I start to feel a tightness in my chest and I recognize the symptoms of something my cardiologist describes as a small panic attack. It’s a little death reminder. Tap “snooze.” Tap “snooze” again. Eventually, this time, it goes away. We stop in a park, in Ventura somewhere. I thank God for another day. It passes.
The truth is this: I love all my days. I have trouble giving up this life. I praise Him for every morning He gives me. How couldn’t I? I live in a vernal paradise. My children are tall and strong. My wife makes my life a kind of Camelot every day. How could I not weep with gratitude at the life God has given me?
Well, where much is given, much is expected, and I want to tell you something about the celebration, just past. Easter. Resurrection day.
I read John 20 to our little house fellowship this last Sunday. I actually can’t read this text without weeping. Mary Magdalene just wants to know where they have taken her Lord, her master. Her faith is innocent. She’s just a confused, troubled woman who was given comfort by Jesus of Nazareth…
And GOD HIMSELF appears to her, and tells her He has conquered death.
Did you read that? CONQUERED DEATH.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why people don’t take this astounding promise more seriously. Even among believers — like me — we ponder only the things we can see. We try to freeze-dry our life, so that we can reconstitute it, mix it back up, and live it again, but it’s hopeless, compared to this great promise.
All those little, and grand joys, go on… if we really believe.
There will be some concert that never ends, some body that never grows old, some heart that never stops, some light that never goes out…