May 7, part 2

9 05 2011

[continued from May 7, part 1]

The next phone call I received changed my life forever. It placed a wedge between what had come before and what would follow. I don’t believe that wedge will ever be removed.

A pastor we knew from our church in California, Karl Ortis, had been visiting us. He had come to Indonesia to see how his church might be able to partner with us in our ministry there. We had just finished a very fruitful and hopeful trip. We had gotten up early in the morning on May 7 and we rode together into Semarang where I was teaching at the seminary. Karl came with me to my Greek class. We went to chapel, and then I took him to lunch before his flight back to Jakarta and then home to San Francisco. Our lunch that day was frog legs. He was so excited because he had not had frog legs since his days growing up in Louisiana.

After I dropped him off at the airport, I went back to my car and started out of the parking lot. While I was just leaving the airport, Timberley’s first call came, telling me that Anna was lost and they were searching for her. After I talked for a minute with her, I texted a few friends in Salatiga and asked if they would go over and check on Timberley. Then I went to the gas station to fill up before heading home. When I left the gas station and started back toward Salatiga, I crossed a bridge on the road right in the middle of town. I remember the phone ringing the second time while I was in the middle of the bridge. Timberley was screaming on the other end “My baby . . . My baby is dead . . . She’s dead . . .” And she was sobbing on and on. Then I was disconnected. Silence. Nothing.

What in the world is happening? What is going on? I immediately started calling back on her phone. No answer at first. Then, finally, a male voice, “Is this Todd? Hi, Todd, this is Mike. Where are you? Semarang? You need to get home quick. Get home now. . . . It looks like there’s been an accident . . . I don’t know what has happened yet . . . I don’t know for sure but I think Anna is dead . . . We just don’t know yet, but it doesn’t look good. . . . But you need to get home now.” All the while I was listening to my friend, Mike, I could hear Timberley screaming in the background.

I needed to talk to someone. I needed help to know what to do. Uncle Paul. Paul Sheriff and his wife Lucy were about the best friends we or anyone ever had. He was  the older man and woman we needed while we on the field. They were the grandparents that our kids were missing while we were in another country. I needed Paul to tell me what to do next.

He told me to stop at his house on my way through town. He would drive me on the hour-long trip to Salatiga. When he joined me at that moment, Paul did not leave my side until we boarded a plane in Semarang about three days later that would take us home to America for Anna’s memorial services. He was a rock for us at the most crucial time we have ever had.

[to be continued]


May 7, part 1

7 05 2011

[Continued from Can I Tell Anna’s Story?]

And so, I’m not sure if I can tell you all about May 7. I suppose that my student who wanted to know what happened to Anna wanted to hear something like, “Anna was sick and . . . .” or “Anna was born with this disorder. . . “, or something of that sort. So I guess the short answer to the question What happened? is that there was a bicycle accident. She fell off her bike. “What?” the Indian man working in the airport in Kuala Lumpur said incredulously, as he wanted to know why there were only three people traveling on a ticket purchased for four. “People don’t die from falling off bicycles.” Well you see, there was this river, and a bridge. But she didn’t see the bridge, or she lost control of her bike, or, well, we just know what happened exactly, but she missed the bridge and fell into a ravine. About thirty feet down. There was rock at the bottom next to the small creek that ran behind our house. According to the doctors, her head hit something and the back of her head was crushed. She died immediately. She was in the water when she was found, but there was no water in her lungs, so she was already dead by the time she entered the creek.

Earlier in the day, Timberley, Samuel, and Anna had ridden their bicycles over to the international school where Sam had some activities. Timberley and Anna rode back home, and then, after reaching the house, decided to continue on their ride. Anna was supposed to go riding later that afternoon with a friend and Timberley wanted to make sure that she knew the trails and how to get back home. They rode on through the last houses in our village, and then turned to the left go toward the rice fields. As the last of the houses gave way to the beautiful vista of the rice fields that descend down to the small river behind our house, the road they were on became a single bicyle-width paved trail that wound slowly through the field. The trail bends around to the left in a slow curve and then sharply to the right as you approach the river.

Timberley always rode her bicycle behind the children when they rode their bikes. She wanted to make sure she could see everything that was happening in front of her. She was riding this way on May 7. But just as they entered the path through the rice field, a motorcycle rider came up behind Timberley, passed her, and then slowly went down the hill, preventing Timberley from keeping up with Anna who, unheeded, sped on down the hill. Anna went on out of sight, and Timberley continued slowly, annoyed at this motorcycle rider that made her slow down.

When Timberley reached the bottom of the path and approached the bridge, Anna was not there. But when she looked to the other side of the bridge she saw Anna speeding on ahead up the hill into the village on the other side of the bridge. Timberley continued on to try to catch up with her. She pedaled hard through the quick turns of the path as it wound through the houses across the river. She never could quite catch up with Anna, who was apparently just out of sight ahead of her. Timberley thought to herself that Anna must be going really fast to stay ahead of her this long.

Then Timberley reached an intersection. The road ended a large crossroad went to the right and left. But no Anna. For the first time, Timberley was more than a little concerned. Even if Anna had sped on ahead, it was completely unlike her to decide which way to go and continue alone without waiting. Especially so, in this case, because Timberley was certain that Anna did not know the correct way to go.

Timberley began circling the neighborhood, continuing on back to our house, backtracking and trying different roads and paths. She called me at some point, in a panic, and told me that Anna was missing. About 45 minutes had passed since she had seen her. Friends were starting to circle the neighborhood on bicycle and motorcycle. I remember Timberley telling me on the phone that she last saw Anna on the other side of the bridge going into the village but that was when she lost sight of her.

[Continued in May 7, part 2]

Can I Tell Anna’s Story?

7 05 2011

I was reminded the other day by one of my students that I have not really told on my blog what happened with Anna. I don’t look back through what I have written so I will take his word for it. In thinking about what I would write if I were to tell Anna’s story, I began a different sort of post, one which took me back to a description of the place where we lived. I began writing about what Indonesia is like, about the seasons and the change from rainy to dry season that takes place around April. I began describing what the colors of the rice fields, the sky, and the huge clouds are like. I described what it is like living in the shadow of a volcano. It began getting long (as this post will, quickly) yet I thought it necessary because in telling Anna’s story of May 7, I have to tell the story of May 6, and May 5, and I have to tell the story of Anna’s last birthday in Solo, and of Sam’s last Indonesian birthday at the coffee plantation. I have to tell about Ibu Soleka and Pak Sugi and our dogs and our cats and the snails and the butterflies and the rambutan tree and the salak bush and Anna’s friends and . . .

You see, the events of May 7 are closely related and are inseparably intertwined with our whole existence in Indonesia, and you have to know about Anna’s love of books and music and dancing. You have to know about the Kleins and the Shipmans and the Hahns and the Hrabars. You have to know about Uncle Paul and Aunt Lucy because without them, the story of May 7 can’t be told. In fact, as I am writing now, the memories and emotions are being to overflow the levees that are built around them. Some of the cracks are beginning to give way.

Yet, how can I tell her story without introducing all of this? How can I tell her story without you knowing about Indonesian neighbors and neighborhoods. About funerals in the home. About neighbors that come by the dozen and sit all evening in your front yard and bring trucks with chairs and awnings and have a small pavilion set up at your house within hours.

But I suppose that above all else, in order to know and understand the events of May 7 you have to know the little girl, Anna. You have to know of the passion with which she lived her life. You have to know the brilliance, to feel the palpable joy and exuberance of her smile. You have to know the depth of her sorrow and compassion as she prayed for relatives and other loved ones who were sick or who were lost without knowledge of her Lord. You have to watch her as she struggles through teaching herself to play a Mozart sonatina on the piano, or sing “The Silver Swan”, or recite a Shakespeare soliloquy.

You have to know what it is like to enter her bedroom and see the books . . . always the books. And see the Bible written on her walls in large laminated sheets. With the most helpful parts near her pillow where she can see them at night when she gets scared. Where she has drawers and drawers full of her treasures. Little scraps of cloth, pieces of string, dead and dessciated bug shells, dried flowers, rocks, cheap jewelry. Each item with a memory, many only Anna would ever know.

And you would have to know her Lord, about whom she would say as she lay on her bed, “I just love him so much.” And to whom she would sing love songs, quietly and without her earthly father knowing about it because she knew I didn’t like those songs. (I weep now thinking about how I told her not to sing “I walk in the garden alone . . .” Where did I ever hear, who told me that that song reflected an inappropriate attitude towrads Jesus? Who spoiled that song for me, and made it so that my daughter had to sing it in private?). You would have to know how much she wanted to see Jesus. To be with him. To be done with this world.

[continued in May 7, part 1]