Words by Farrah Journey
I will never forget the first time I laid my eyes on the piece of ground where my dad took his last breath.
My husband and I, along with our two children, made the long drive from our East Coast home to the rural Midwest town where my dad resided. Though I had spent my growing up years in the general area, I was only vaguely familiar with the stretch of road that would now be forever etched in my mind.
Following a bend in the road we were told to expect, I caught my first glimpse of the roadside memorial that was placed at the site of my dad's crash. I could not take my eyes off of it - that symbol that signified to the world that death had claimed another life. The knots that had been steadily forming in my stomach for hours tightened to the point of physical pain. My heart began to pound erratically and I couldn't seem to draw enough air into my lungs.
Parking the car at the side of the road, my husband asked if I wanted him and the kids to get out with me. Reaching over, I squeezed his hand tight for a moment, as if to draw strength for what lie ahead. Shaking my head no, I whispered the lie that I was okay, even though nothing in my world felt okay at the moment. I got out of the car and slowly walked over to the memorial. It was a coarse wooden cross sitting in a bed of white gravel, with what appeared to be small railroad ties around the base. It was tastefully decorated for the springtime planting season, complete with a loop of barbed wire, small garden tools, and seed packets hanging from the arms. A pair of my dad's old work gloves, and his always present cowboy hat - a reminder of the country-boy redneck that he was - hung at the top and sides.
Reaching my fingers out, I trailed them lightly over the rough edges of the wood. One of my dad's work gloves had come loose and was lying on the ground. Gently picking it up, I put my hand inside it for a moment. The feel of the worn leather in my hand brought childhood memories to mind. How many times have I seen my dad in work gloves? Warm tears glided silently down my cheeks as I stood and remembered my dad. I remembered watching him cut wood and build fences on our small farm. I remembered how he spent hours working on our cars that were forever breaking down. I remembered how my senior year of high school, he and I carpooled to school and work in my parents' old beat up pick up truck. I remembered the way he would tease me about getting older. I remembered how, as an adult, it felt good when I said things that made him laugh. I remembered the years when disdain ruled my mind, and hurt and anger over his choices fueled my decision to keep my distance from him. I remembered how hard I prayed for him in more recent years and how thankful I was that God helped me extend forgiveness while I had the chance. My tears came as a gush then; spilling out from my very soul. I gripped the sides of the cross and bent over as grief overtook me.
When the intensity of the moment subsided, I straightened and took in the scene around me. I saw the graveled country road, the deep blue sky, the wide open land, the treeline in the distance. I kept thinking about how this was the last view my dad saw before the temporal met the eternal. I tried desperately to make sense of things – to piece together what may have happened that day. All I had to go on were the assumptions and best guesses the police and family members could come up with. It still did not seem real to me, more like a nightmare I could not wake up from. As I studied the road, the dirt, the grass for clues, I could feel the gentle, warm breeze pick up the ends of my hair. The reality of the horror associated with this place clashed with the beautiful Missouri spring day. Death... and life.
In the days since that moment, that meeting of the place that took my dad's life, my thoughts have gone back again and again to that clash. I am struck by the realization that that tension we live in, that tension between death and life, is the exact place we can find beauty.
We are all prone to drift in the course of life. We work, raise our kids, clean our houses, pay the bills, and somehow in the middle of that we lose something. We lose perspective. We lose focus on what matters. Our value system gets skewed and we find ourselves surviving, not thriving. We become weary and overwhelmed. We no longer play and relax and enjoy our days. Or perhaps someone offends or hurts us, maybe even severely, and we find ourselves, just like I did with my dad, allowing anger and bitterness and hate to take center stage.
Then, unexpectedly, the clash of death and life comes roaring in and we find ourselves at a crossroad. We look death in the face and in its reflection we see how far we have drifted. Suddenly we are shaken to our core because we realize that having a clean house and our bills paid means NOTHING if we lose those people and things that matter most. Suddenly we realize that our grip on anger and unforgiveness is really our own fists wrapped tightly around our own throats. These things strangle the life out of us; the beauty out of life.
It occurs to me that everyone is faced with a daily decision to choose life or choose death in the way they live. We have the beautiful ability to focus on those things that breathe life into our hearts and the hearts of others. We can choose to extend grace, to pour out love, to offer help. We can choose to hug our kids even when they are making us crazy, to greet our spouse with a kiss at the end of an exhausting day, to give our time and our friendship to those who need it, to laugh and dream out loud.
Standing in the shadow of that clash, I realized that I'm tired of giving my days away to the stress and exhaustion that my daily “hustle” brings. I'm tired of taking things for granted, of no longer seeing the opportunities of life that are all around me. I want to revel in my husband and children. I want to spend quality time with my family and friends. I want to restore broken relationships. I want to be a person that encourages, that loves, that inspires! I want to fully enjoy the things I love. I want to stand at the crossroads and say, “I CHOOSE LIFE.”
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About the Author:
Farrah Journey is a God-loving, happy and blessed wife and adoptive mom of two children. She is simultaneously wife, mom, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, businesswoman, and writer. With an iced mocha in easy reach, a kitty cuddling close by, and painted toes tucked inside their favorite flip-flops, she aspires to “breathe fresh life into parched souls” with everything she writes.