Frederick Buechner’s words are like lightning bugs in the darkness of grief or in the shadows of the ordinary.
They illuminate bits of divinity we might not have seen otherwise. His words give us permission to dive into what is unknown and, in the end, discover that it is merely a part of us we have not yet explored.
“The grace of God means something like: ‘Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.’”
This was one of the first Buechner quotes I read. As someone who was always afraid, I felt those words in my bones and tried each day to practice them in ordinary life.
Buechner reminded me not to fear becoming or letting go because God was there at each point — in the terrible and the beautiful. I’ve pondered his words in recent days following his death on Aug. 15 at the age of 96, remembering his life and reflecting on what his words have meant to my own life.
My “terrible things” happened four years ago this month. I underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. What started out as a small cyst-like mass turned into what I can best describe as a demogorgon wrapping itself around my pituitary gland and around my carotid artery.
The neurosurgeon sitting across from me traced the tumor on the screen as if it were directions to some place not found on Google maps. For him, it was a Tuesday in June, interpreting a picture of shadows and ridges. For me, it was the beginning of the end of being afraid.
We scheduled surgery to take place within a few weeks, and in those weeks leading up to surgery, my therapist gave me permission to cry whenever I felt the tears coming.
At the Whole Foods hot bar, you could find me weeping into my cup of clam chowder. In a booth at a Chick-fil-a, while a terrible instrumental version of “I Can Only Imagine” played overhead, I would bawl over a worship song about dying.
I began the process of putting my affairs in order, understanding what happened to my student loans, possessions and so forth.
I cried big, ugly tears, dry heaving and all. I wish I could tell you I turned to scripture in the hours and days after that doctor’s appointment. But I should not lie.
Rather, I created my own four-letter psalms of lament, which I think God welcomed as prayer too. And I also thought about Frederick Beuchner’s words: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
Because there is nothing more gut-wrenching than walking your parents through your DNR and explaining to the woman who grew you inside her womb that she could not make that decision if it came to it.
The beautiful part of that season was that it did not cure my fearing tendencies, but by allowing myself to embrace and name the fear, it no longer consumed me or kept me frozen in grief and, for that matter, any other fear I had regarding other areas of life. I could no longer allow fear to run my life in ways that kept me from witnessing the glory of living.
I grieve the loss of Frederick Buechner, and I pray that each day onward is a day with new opportunities to not be afraid.
Perhaps, this is the way we can memorialize his work in our coming days, holding the terrible and the beautiful in light — not fear. And in this process, perhaps we will find ourselves again and again.