As soon as I finish typing up these thoughts, I have to pack my bag again. We are heading out to Portland today for a time of celebration. My niece Taylor and her husband Matthew are expecting a baby boy in June. The family is gathering to rejoice in this couple’s happiness. Of Mama and Daddy’s 13 grandchildren, the bulk of those who have had children have had boys. Nephew David and his wife Rose have four boys. Mannie and Nicole have a boy and a girl. Gabe and Christina have two boys and a girl. John and Nancy have one of each. Jessica and Austin just had their first last weekend – a boy, Theo. (I love that name). Konnie and Jon have a boy, but are expecting a girl in July. Ashley and Zack have two boys. (Does that read like a chapter from the Old Testament of begats?)
And when Shelby marries Cristhian in April we will add another boy to the mix, Nico. That’s the other thing we are doing this weekend, hosting a wedding shower for Shelby tomorrow. Well, I should say what her sisters are doing. They did all the work. I’m just showing up, along with the same family members who will celebrate Taylor and Matthew this afternoon.
But while we are celebrating these loved ones here on the West Coast, my Tennessee and Georgia and Alabama family will be gathering in my hometown of Columbus, Georgia, for an entirely different kind of celebration. A celebration of life. The youngest of our cousins, Hope Renee, died this past week. My uncle Doug called me while I was in Seattle to let me know Hope had died. It was a total shock. She leaves behind four grieving children. No family, no matter how far flung, expects the youngest among them to die first. My aunt had Hope at the same time I had Ashley and Shelby. So my cousin actually grew up more with my kids than with me. My memory of Hope will always be of her and Ashley getting on a makeshift stage in a Tennessee park at the family reunion and belting out Achy-Breaky Heart. They had the whole extended family in tears of laughter, cheering them on. They were the cutest things and they both knew the words to Billy Ray Cyrus’s song pretty well. And Hope had a lovely voice. Hope’s death was totally unexpected, the cause of which is still unknown. My heart is heavy for my aunt, and for Hope’s children.
Hope’s isn’t the only celebration of life that will be taking place this weekend in my hometown. Tamara Curry, who played the part of BURDY during the Springer Theater Paul Pierce’s adaptation of MOTHER OF RAIN, died unexpectedly last week. She did not die due to the storms but the storms were taking place at the same time as her death, which makes me think that even God was distraught.
I found out Sunday night when I arrived home from Seattle. I was bereft. There is no other suitable word for it. Not only did Tamara embody the character of BURDY onstage, she possessed that gift of loving all people the way Burdy did. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Tamara and her loving husband Celo outside of the production. Their’s was a beautiful love story and I was honored that they were willing to share their story with me. And even more so when they shared their hopes and dreams for the future.
Tamara’s death has left communities around the globe grieving. She was just that kind of person, from her days at Howard, to her days in Hollywood, to the love story that brought her to Columbus, Tamara breathed grace and goodness to all that she did. Her talent was immense, her devotion even greater. I still cannot believe that someone as fierce, as young, as kind and as beautiful, inside and out, as Tamara is gone from this world.
I spoke with my friend Sarah Thebarge this week. Sarah has just returned from a three-month mission serving the people of the South Sudan. This is not the first trip Sarah has made serving those in the greatest need. If you haven’t yet read them, check out Sarah’s books – The Invisible Girls and Well – which conveys her heart for the world and how she goes about implementing her faith. Sarah walks the walk more than any human being I know.
We were catching up on her trip and how she was doing since her return. If you’ve never done it, it’s a strange thing to travel halfway across the world and witness first-hand the disparity between living in the US and carving out a life in which just finding food and water, much less medical care, is an all-consuming task. Sarah would walk miles everyday just to reach the makeshift healthcare facility where she tended to dying patients will little more than Ibuprofen to offer.
Juxtapositions, Barry Hannah said. It’s the juxtapositions that draws us writers into a story.
It’s difficult coming back from such a trip as Sarah’s been on and reconciling a land of so much with a land of so little. There is so much about this world that is unjust, but to be clear, it is mostly unjust not because God created it that way, but because we have. Men. Women. Me. You. The haves and the have nots, as Lorraine Hansberry so aptly put it.
There is a difference between living in the middle of something and living in the tension of it.
Sarah and I, we are not middle people. Neither of us take a fence-sitting attitude toward life. We both plunge into the tension of it. That’s manifested differently in our lives but that’s a bond that binds us. A bond that I am forever grateful for.
Just as I am grateful for my cousin Hope and my friend Tamara. For my daughter Shelby and my niece Taylor.
As I head off to the family gathering, a gathering of celebration, I am keenly aware that my family and friends in Georgia will be sharing a different kind of celebration story today.
Burdy captured my sentiments best in the book MOTHER OF RAIN:
It didn’t seem right that the sun should rise and set in the same fashion, as if things at Christian Bend were the same as they had always been, when nothing was, nothing except the rising and falling of the sun, which at this very moment was blooding up the river with its red veins of light. That right there angered me. If ever there was a time when the earth, moon and sun ought to cease their ritual dance, shouldn’t it be when daughters die? Had the sun no respect for Maizee? For Doc, Leela, and Rain? For all of us who loved this family? These are the questions I shouted at the sun as it set over the Holston. But the sun answers to no one, don’t make no difference how loud a person yells or how disturbed they might be. It just goes on setting and rising, setting and rising. Maybe that is the sun’s answer. Ma always claimed keeping to a familiar path is the best way to straighten out the twisted things of life.
I’m not a “sorrowing tonight, joy in the morning” kind of person.
I’m more a “joyful but always grieving” gal.
I reside in the tension of life. It’s a bit like riding Thunder Mountain at Dollywood: It’s exhilarating and scares the beejesus out of me at the same time.
Karen Spears Zacharias is an author and a Wayfaring Stranger.