Autumn River

May the peace that transcends all understanding pass through you. 

Words to this effect, or maybe precisely these words, concluded our Sunday service at Christ Episcopal Church in Redondo Beach, a congregation I was “led” to after my mother died of emphysema in 1981. 

As she lay dying in a dark room at Torrance Memorial Hospital, I felt compelled to contact my abandoned childhood church, out of desperation really. My mother was terminally ill and my family, like a lot of families during times of crisis, was frayed with each person’s opinion about what they believed was the best course of treatment given that my mother was suffering and unable to breathe. 

While Mom and I had not been especially close during my teenage and early adult years, fortunately, our relationship became closer toward the end of her life when I grew to truly love and respect her. All those years, I had been a self-centered, selfish, foolish daughter, not appreciating how much she had sacrificed for her family.  As her illness progressed, Mom confided in me—she trusted me—to promise her that I wouldn’t continue to let her suffer and prolong her life. Enough is enough. My dad and brother weren’t ready for her to pass and my sister was incommunicado; Mom’s impending death was too much for her to deal with. Realizing there was a severe “breakdown in communication”, I phoned my old childhood church and spoke with the secretary who explained that while I was a lapsed parishioner, the minister, Father Rob Edwards, would be happy to drop by Mom’s hospital room and chat, say a prayer–if that felt right. 

Unlike the minister at another church, a local feel-good New Age congregation I was attending with my cousin, this minister, Father Rob, actually showed up. He was grounding–centering–and reminded me to think about the gift of the moment. “Your mom is still here,” be present for her, he suggested. He asked permission to say a prayer, which he did, either something he made up on the spot or read from the Book of Common Prayer. I felt better. The hushed room seemed somehow lighter. Mom was at peace and so was I knowing I was her advocate and would make sure no extraordinary measures were taken.

* * *

This memory came to me as I sat along the creek at my Convict Lake campsite wondering what I should do about the gnarly impending weather event forecast. It’s supposed to blizzard snow in a few days and rain like crazy. I have two nights reserved at a sweet little resort in Bridgeport, but I’m not a fan of the freezing cold and putting on chains. Yet, I didn’t want fear to prevent me from continuing my adventure. I was sharing my stress, my worry, with this trip’s travel partner, how the responsibility of preparing foods, making sure he’s OK since he’s been ill, and all that comes with being the “What’s Next?” Captain, when the clouds literally cleared and Father Rob’s words, “May the peace that transcends all understanding pass through you,” came to me. I am not alone. God is with me, always. 

Tears erupted from a cavern of fear. Suddenly, the Autumn River became my past, present and future. The water’s bend toward the west represented yesterday; a reminder of love and pain, yet narrow, just a sliver of the brilliant landscape. The present is wide and gurgling with jumping brown trout and thirsty branches and wheat-colored grass. The future flows to my right in a direction I can’t see, a promise, a hope–a belief–that this small stream will join other waterways also headed down the mountainside. And surrounding this brilliant chapel of metaphors are the orange and yellow Fall arms of God whose stature towers in the silhouette of the snow-covered Eastern Sierra mountains. 

The stress I was burdened with minutes ago, vanished. The sun came out. The sky turned stained glass blue and the bruised clouds broke up into cauliflower puffs.

Amazing.

Grace. 

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