Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I’ve been thinking about Paul Miller up at Lacona, a first-cousin of my late mother who at 96 is the elder in our extended family. Paul and his immediate family are having a Job-like year --- and it isn’t fair.

Last October, Paul’s great-granddaughter, Jennifer Luedtke, 24, and a companion were gunned down by her estranged husband and left to die along Highway 14 near Marshalltown.

In February, Paul’s wife, Veda, died in the 75th year of their marriage.

On June 9, two of his grandsons, brothers Christopher and and Chad Miller (left and right above), ages 28 and 34 respectively, died while kayaking the Brandywine River near West Chester, Pa.

Christopher was working in Yonkers, N.Y., while his wife, Nicole, attended Sarah Lawrence College. Chad was associate pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Del. Their parents, Paul Joseph and Eleanor (Max) Miller, both of whom grew up in Lucas County, now live at Creston. Eleanor’s father, the Rev. Homer Max, was a long-time pastor of First Church of the Nazarene in Chariton.

The men, both experienced kayakers, attempted to negotiate a low-head dam across a storm-swollen river. Christopher’s body was recovered the day of the accident; Chad’s, a few days later. Both were buried Thursday at the Newbern Cemetery --- a hilltop with a view that stretches for miles astraddle the Lucas-Warren county line northwest of here, southeast of Lacona.

This all seems like more than one family should have to bear, although other families have borne more and will again --- it’s part of the human condition. Nor is there any point in trying to figure out the “why.” It’s beyond us, an imponderable.

There’s an old gospel song I like that dates from the great depression of the 1930s. Some of the lyrics are downright whiney and more than a little self-righteous --- along the lines of why am I in this fix, Lord, while that guy over there who obviously is a bigger sinner isn’t? --- but the tune is lovely and the refrain says it well.

“Farther along we'll know all about it,
Farther along we'll understand why;
Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine,
We'll understand it all by and by.”

Some Quakers use the expression “holding in the Light” to express what most of us are trying to do in situations like this --- on the edge of sorrow, not grieving because of a loss but for those affected by a loss. A Pentecostal friend similarly “lifts up” those in trouble, in sorrow or in need. I can’t think of better ways to say it.

We risk trivializing the tragedies of others by announcing that there are lessons to be learned from them, but some thoughts are hard to push back --- the usefulness of keeping our own troubles real or imagined in perspective and the wisdom of seizing the day. For now it’s all we’ve got.

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