“Moses climbed from the Plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the peak of Pisgah facing Jericho. God showed him all the land from Gilead to Dan, all Naphtali, Ephraim, and Manasseh; all Judah reaching to the Mediterranean Sea; the Negev and the plains which encircle Jericho, City of Palms, as far south as Zoar.
“Then and there God said to him, “This is the land I promised to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the words ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I’ve let you see it with your own eyes. There it is. But you’re not going to go in.”
“Moses died there in the land of Moab, Moses the servant of God, just as God said. God buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth Peor. No one knows his burial site to this very day.” Deuteronomy 34.
Last January, Mike and I went to my grandparent’s beach house for Martin Luther King Day. We’ve done this for years. It is often unseasonably warm during that holiday, and we love taking advantage of a nice day at the coast.
Last January, this holiday was especially memorable for me. I woke up from a restful night anxious to tell Mike about my crazy dream. I have vivid wild dreams, but I’d never had one quite like this before. My dream involved my grandma Mary coming to me and giving me a message. I had never dreamed about someone who had died. It felt especially significant because we were in her house. In my dream, my grandma came to me and said, “Oh, honey. You should read this article in Oprah magazine about Reese Witherspoon. It will help you.”
I thought, “Wow, that’s amazing that my grandma is reading Oprah magazine.”
I turned over the magazine to look at the address label, wondering if she might have one of my old copies. The address label said, “Jesus.” It wasn’t until morning that I realized I was reading it as Hay-zuse because of my students with that name, but actually, it was Jesus.
Jesus has a subscription to Oprah! As I told Mike, I laughed out loud and said I should google Reese Witherspoon and Oprah magazine sometime. I hadn’t seen a Reese Witherspoon movie in years and I wondered what sparked my subconscious to dream that dream. We both laughed and I forgot about it.
At my small group meeting, I mentioned my crazy dream to them and someone mentioned Reese Witherspoon was going to star in a movie about a book. I decided to get more proactive and google Reese and Oprah. What happened next was amazing. I found out that Oprah had chosen the book “Wild” to be her first book club 2.0. As is turned out, Reese Witherspoon would be starring in a movie as the lead character of the book. Oprah had also done an interview with Cheryl Strayed, the author.
I mentioned this crazy story to my friend, Jenn, one day when I was visiting her in the hospital. She said, “I have that book! I read it. I will pass it on to you.” I thought, “great” and I let it go.
Time marched on and I kind of forgot about the book. I knew I would eventually read it and find out what grandma wanted me to know. I just went about reading other books from the library.
Months later, I decided to read the Oprah interview with Cheryl Strayed. The article said that “Wild” was about carrying the weight we cannot bear…how to bear what we cannot. Oprah ends the interview by saying this is what I got from the book. “No matter where you are in your climb in life, no matter what you’re doing, you have to keep getting up and doing what you have to do.” After reading the interview, I decided I just needed to get the book and read it. I was worrying about some people in my life and I thought, maybe this book was meant to help me understand what to do.
I got the book from the library and read it at the end of this summer. The book “Wild” is about a young woman, in her early twenties, who loses her mother to cancer. Only one month passes from diagnosis to her death. Cheryl’s life is torn apart and she begins a series of self-destructive behaviors in the wake of her grief. Her true healing begins when she decides to leave everything behind and hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone. The book “Wild” is about acceptance. It’s about accepting what seems impossible to accept.
I love to hike and I thought the message of accepting hardships in our lives was helpful. I wondered if grandma knew about my friend with cancer or about my loved one that I was trying to help.
Believe it or not, I finished the book “Wild” about a week before Griffin died. Right after he died, I realized the significance of my grandma’s message to me. I believe she knew I was going to lose my dear son. She was reaching out trying to help me bear the unbearable…accept what felt beyond acceptance.
Late this summer, my friend Jenn gave me her copy of “Wild”. In the last couple weeks, I have reread “Wild” underlining passages, searching for some answer, message or sign of hope. Last night I underlined a quote from Cheryl’s brother. He says, “It’s reality. And reality is what we have to accept, like it or not.”
At the beginning of the story, Cheryl talks about being the woman with a hole in her heart. After being on the Pacific Crest Trail for more than a month, she writes…”It seemed like a long time and also it seemed like my trip had just begun, like I was now only digging into whatever it was I was out here to do. Like I was still the woman with the hole in her heart, but the hole had gotten ever so infinitesimally smaller.”
As I looked at Griffin one last time, lying in front of me under that white sheet, my mouth uttered sounds so grief stricken and painful. After the terrible sounds of grief, my mouth started uttering in waves of repetition, “He’s in heaven, he’s in heaven, he’s in heaven!” Then it changed to, “I believe, I believe, I believe!” What came out of me that day was out of my control. The sounds and words flowed without asking me first. I had an involuntary acceptance of what was lying in front of me, despite not wanting it to be true.
Every night and every morning, my mind goes to the place of remembering what has happened and trying to grasp the reality of the situation. I believe acceptance of this loss will take a lifetime and more, and yet, like Oprah said upon reflection on the book “Wild”, “No matter the obstacle in front of you, you just have to keep getting up and doing what you have to do.”
A few weeks after Griffin died, I headed up to Mt. Hood to hike the McNeil Point trail that we were going to do together. I hiked eleven miles that day. It was one of the most strenuous uphill hikes I’d ever done, and I did it alone. My mind was focused on the beauty, trying not to fall, and trying to keep up my stamina to complete the trek. I thought about Cheryl Strayed’s trek alone on the Pacific Crest Trail. I thought about what Griffin and I would have talked about on the journey. At one point on the trail, my body broke out in a run. I was going to make it to the top no matter what.
Perched on a boulder with a breathtaking view of Mt. Hood’s peak over my shoulder, I asked some folks to take my picture with a photo I had brought of Griffin. It was a moment of grief. It was a moment of accomplishment. It was a moment of acceptance. I knew I would head back down the mountain and he would still be gone. Nothing will change that. But for the moment, on that mountain, I was able to breathe deeply despite being at 7000 feet.
I don’t see myself taking three months away from my sweet family to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone. I do realize that hiking has been a source of healing and I know I will continue to hike. People have handed us countless books on grief. One day, we got three different books. So far, they all just sit in a pile next to the enormous basket of cards. I know, someday, I will feel like I can look at them, but for now, I am unable. Somehow, this book “Wild” has given me some pieces of help.
Accepting the loss of Griffin is not a choice. It is reality. Somehow I’m forced to bear the unbearable.
Before Moses died, God takes him up a mountain so he can view all of the Promised Land…the land where he will never get to live. Somehow, after all that Moses had been through, he had to accept the fact that he would never get to go to the Promised Land. The land he had worked endlessly to get his people to…the land that was promised to him. Every day he got up and faced the obstacles in front of him and kept on moving forward doing what he had to do. It’s amazing he didn’t give up even with the knowledge of knowing he wouldn’t get to go into the Promised Land. I wonder if it gave him some sense of peace to at least see it from a distance before he died.
Somehow, when faced with what seems unbearable, we have to figure out how to bear it and get up and keep moving forward. Everything around us marches forward: time, the seasons, our lives. Things didn’t work out the way Moses planned and hoped. Somehow, life went on. He lived. He got a glimpse of the land before he died.
My story began on Martin Luther King Day. In his “I have a dream speech”, he said,
“I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” From “I've Been to the Mountaintop”, April 3, 1968
My life story is not the life story I dreamed I would have. Acceptance is not my choice, but it is my reality.
[Erica brought this message at West Hills Friends on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014]