Happy Birthday, Anna

29 03 2016

california-2007-071Another marker today. Anna would be 17 years old today. It is difficult to imagine, really. I shared last year of a memory of Anna learning to ride her bike, and what that might look like as she would learn at 16 to drive a car. The imagined scene was not pretty. But at 17, what am I supposed to imagine? Her first date? Her senior year of high school? It is all so unreal for a little girl who will always remain nine years old. More so for a nine year old girl who, although she wanted to have seventeen children and had already named them all, had no interest in being married. She recognized with apprehension the difficulty of her position and so conceded that she would have to marry in order to have all of her children. “But I don’t want to,” she insisted. “A husband is merely a tool for having children.” I have no idea where she learned things like that at nine years old. Was there a series of juvenile feminist literature she had hidden somewhere in her bedroom?

This year is unusual for us. The calendar is not right. Easter normally falls after Anna’s birthday but before the date of her death, May 7. This year, however, Easter has fallen on a date early enough that it preceded her birthday. I suppose in hindsight that the ordering of these events matters little. In most years, the remembrance of the Lord’s resurrection on Easter serves as an encouragement to us before we come to our day of grief on May 7. Were Easter to ever fall after that day, I suppose I would say it is only natural for the day of Anna’s death to occur before our remembrance of the resurrection. That is the natural order, is it not? In all these things, we find hope where we can and take encouragement where we are able. Dates and their orders have no intrinsic meaning. We imbue them with meaning as we create the relationships with one another and with our lives.

This Easter season and Anna’s birthday season have been difficult for our seminary. A little over a month ago, our librarian, Jason Fowler, lost his young wife to cancer. It was a long process that although never welcome, was expected. He is grieving now and is likely looking at Easter in a more tangible light than he ever did before. Then just last week one of our student’s lost his wife in a horrible automobile accident. It was sudden, like Anna’s death for us. There is no time or opportunity to prepare for that kind of grief. I don’t know that student, but I do know that this Easter was a whole new experience for him and for his young children. I hope that the grief he feels so strongly now only serves to make the reality and hope of the resurrection that much stronger.

I tell a portion of Anna’s story–a very small portion indeed–to my Old Testament students each year at school. (For some reason, I spare my Hebrew students the same treatment.) I have a specific purpose in sharing with these students, and I shape her story in a way that I believe fits with what we are doing in class. I have found over the years that her story still resonates with many of our students. I received a brief note the other day from a former student letting me know that I was one of his favorite professors. I know why he said this. It had nothing to do with the Old Testament or my ability (or inability) to teach well. It was solely because of a series of conversations we had about an issue that had developed in his life. We spoke together throughout the semester about an ongoing problem that had come up with one of his children. I know that the only reason we ever had those conversations to begin with was because he had heard my stories about Anna. I know that there are others like this young father, some I am aware of some I am not, but I do know of this one changed life.

With each passing year, the grief process changes. In some respects it gets easier. In other respects, however, the process changes in an unexpectedly negative way. Memories start to fade. One ties the loved one to a certain life event only to realize later that that person had already died before the event occurred. You had manufactured the memory. Guilt ensues. I still remember the day that I sat on our back porch reminiscing about how much my mother loved sitting on that back porch, only to realize that she had died the year before we moved there. And yet the memory of her sitting and enjoying our back yard was tangible to me. From time to time we read the Sacred Diaries of Adrian Plass out loud together. I can see Anna laughing at all the jokes. Or I can see her laughing with us as we watch Sergeant Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes. Yet she was not there for any of that.

The vagueness of these memories propels me towards a new insight into Anna’s death. Perhaps my memories, and the inconsistencies of those memories, is slowly being replaced by a surety of the future. My memories of Anna, while growing more opaque, are giving way to another set of visions–memories if you will–of Anna enjoying the presence of the Lord. As we sing hymns of praise to our Father, and I convert all the pronouns so that I am singing of Anna’s praise to her Father, I am filled with this concrete certainty that Anna is more real and far happier now than the when she experienced the happiness of a flesh and blood child. And the certainty of that vision of Anna’s present state gives me a more certain hope in my own resurrection when Christ returns.

This certainty, of course, is not based on any vision of Anna. It is based on God’s revealed word. I should say, perhaps, that I know of Anna’s state now because of God’s word. And as I imagine Anna in the working out of God’s promises to us, that vision helps me to understand the future with a certain hope.

We will continue to miss her very much.