One particular day vividly stands out in my memory: I had chosen to stay home by myself while the family was out. It was early evening, the sun just setting behind the eastern ridge of hills that rose up just behind a small creek which ran the length of my parent’s property, down through neighboring properties, past my summer cabin, the creek I learned to fish and swim in, that I often rode horses through in the heat of summer. Like that one morning not so long ago, it was a robin that once again set my heart to aching with a good, pure ache.
Sitting on the new cedar deck surrounding the old farm house, I felt the sun’s waning warmth on my face. The air is so pure and fresh amongst those wooded hills, sometimes one feels they could drink its deep life-giving oxygen. But that day my thoughts were wandering in another vein; though my lungs were taking in air I didn’t realize it. I was burdened with such a heavy weight as I have never felt before, heavy but freeing at the same time.
“God, I’m dying. Aren’t I? I am dying.” Hot tears pooled up in my eyes. I rarely cried, even as a child. My words came out loud, “God, I’m dying, aren’t I?” And then an outburst of “I don’t want to die! I’m not ready to die! Oh God please!” Please what? I didn’t even know. I let my tears shake me, let all the grief and hurt bubble up. Suddenly, as I sat and let my soul by hit by the fear and my heart the wrenching, I experienced what I would call a 2nd level of sight.
Light touched my eyes as it never had before. Suddenly my senses were heightened: the silvery green leaves of the willow tree, the deep, purple red of the plum tree, the detail in grass, plants, everything around me; the world was exploding with beauty. I saw its glory in a way I’ve never experienced since. And then the robin.
While the sun was setting on my right, casting its golden yellow light over everything, a lone robin landed on the porch railing, not 10 feet from where I was sitting. Never before had I thought of robins as beautiful, their being a common bird. But this one was so beautiful it quieted everything in my soul. I looked. Beauty quieted my deeply disturbed heart.
The robin’s breast, usually a rusty, dull orange was this time brilliant, a fiery red-and-gold, so deep in color I had to look on. Its slate gray head and back were of silver sheen and so soft. Its eye, encircled with a white ring shone so clearly I could see into that live, deep brown, slightly glowing ember. And the sun was setting in all its glory, highlighting every speck of that bird from head to feet. No shadows, only golden light that enhanced all the colors and wonder God had given it.
I was struck. The brokenness in my heart was touched. Perhaps this, whatever was plaguing my body, would take me away from this earth. I ached, but not in a desperate way. Suddenly, hurting was good. It was comforting to hurt. And I knew that God heard me, was with me, cared about me.
The robin flitted away, probably to warm fledglings in their nest, or perhaps to feed the mother who was doing just that. But I have not forgotten that moment. The ache continued in my heart, but I was ready. I felt peace in my soul, whether I lived or died.
There were many times that summer when nature calmed my heart. Roaring of a wild river, the gentle gurgle of the creek that ran past my shack. There were flowers, the swallows flitting around in the deep blue summer sky, watching the barn owl’s silhouette swoop over the fields at dusk, warm summer nights listening to the frog’s singing. There was little coming through in the way of comfort from those around. My family didn’t know what to do with me, and as none had struggled with health problems, there was little compassion coming my way at the beginning, even reactions to my attempts in changing my diet, doing the parasite cleanse and other ideas.
I was virtually alone, trapped in a sickly body with no one to confide in, to receive comfort from. It was a summer of releasing dreams, of exploring exactly what made me valuable as a woman who couldn’t think, relate or be with people, who couldn’t be active anymore. I had to find new enjoyment, new activities that left me refreshed. The old exhausted me. Who was I now?
And I still had a small bit of hope regarding that young man in Canada, though this removed any possibility of marriage for my future, if I had a future. I also let go of that…I thought.
It did turn out that I was feeling a wee bit better as my body expelled all that the parasite cleanse dumped into my liver. I decided that I must have an outlet if returning to the north. Snowboarding. In the summer I had decided this Canadian and I were only to be friends and nothing more, so I felt free to write him a short, friendly note, asking about types of snowboards as he was into that. He wrote back a very friendly note with information, asking for more information about my summer, to which I responded and then it died off. I did get a snowboard though. I figured it wouldn’t demand too much energy and so I purchased one before returning north.
While driving into Portland my dad and I had a chance to talk. It was nearing the end of summer and he wanted to know some of what had been going on. Finally, after 3 ½ months of being home, someone asked! It was liberating to have someone interested. I discovered later that he and my mom had decided to let me do as I pleased and to not address anything, even if they didn’t like my grouchiness or time spent alone.
And on that note, I returned to the college for my 3rd year of work there. August-November was a difficult time. I was still sick but a wee bit better. I was often working part-time when I ought to have been full-time. Many dark hours were spent in my bed, crying and fighting to let go of my attraction to this young man. He had many amazing girls around and I saw him only a handful of times those months.
My brain instructed me to let go, to turn my back on it all. I had no chance, no hope. I wasn’t even a person. And he loved adventure, a very active guy. Longer ago I may have had a chance, but not now. How can a guy notice a girl if she’s never around? I wrestled. And let go. And wrestled. All was falling apart around me once again. I was failing at work, failing my amazing boss who had 2 daughters and a husband with liver cancer, not to mention the stress of a girl’s dorm; failing in my relationships, hardly able to manage my own discipleship group, certainly not involved in the girls’ lives as I would wish to be. But I did have assurance.
I had looked to God. Before the snow came, before the cold had set in, I drove my car out and parked at a bird refuge. I walked some trails, set myself by the water’s edge and watched the sun setting in all its glory. Tears pooled in my eyes again. “God, I don’t want to die!” In some ways, it was a repeat of the robin in the setting sun. Again, the tears rolled hot, cutting wet pathways down my face, running down my neck. Usually I hide, wipe away tears. Not this time. “God, I’m not ready to die!” Seeing the blue-eyed guy again had added a burden upon my heart: I did want to be with him. I’d never before experienced such a draw to any man I’d met. Anguish. That the only word to describe my feeling. So much had been taken and now I had this desire to release also. Raw and broken, my body shook as I cried. I lifted my eyes into the sunset and called out. Suddenly a wave, resembling a warm breeze hit me, though there was no wind. The sun was sinking lower behind the water, shining bright in my face.
“You are not going to die, Autumn.” The assurance hit me in gentleness but also in full force. Fear lifted. It seemed as if the air around me pressed in and soothed my soul. Peace, such a deep peace took hold of me. I knew. I had heard the voice of God. I was going to be fine. I was going to live. This nagging weight that took hold of me could go. I would live. I could lift my head beyond the thoughts of death and embrace life. Peace shook out fear and I left with live hope in my heart. Still sick, but I dared to hope, to risk and trust. I would choose to believe what I had heard. I left the water’s side after securing a photo of that sunset. I went home believing.