BEAUTY AND TRAGEDY: REFLECTIONS FROM AN IDYLLIC FAMILY VACATION

For three decades, Arbutus and I have delighted in our several weeks of vacation at the rustic cabin we share  along  the  gorgeous Lake Nicatous in northern Maine.

But this year, that joy seemed uncertain. We had not traveled anywhere since early  March when COVID-19 imposed its heavy lockdown. Having others join us seemed impossible given the necessary rules of “social distancing.” And at 80, we felt less inclined to be there alone, even if we could get there safely.

Then, unexpectedly, we received a call from our Pittsburgh son, Michael. He, his wife Randi and four chidren had planned a month-long cross-country camping trip to Oregon and back, but COVID-19 had canceled those plans. They like us, had been carefully quarantining themselves, so Michael said that if we could safely travel to our isolated  cabin in northern Maine, we could enjoy 2 plus  weeks together without any  restrictions on hugs and kisses. We agreed  enthusiastically!  And began to  figure out how to get there safely.

We had a wonderful 16 days together!  Teenage and almost teenage granddaughters loved the almost daily couple hours of “tubing”-- being towed across the lake at high speed on a rubber inflatable that bounced across the waves, creating squeals, big smiles and an occasional tumble into the lake. We played games, swam, fished, read Tolkien and slept 10 hours each night – – undisturbed except for the lovely haunting cry of the loons at night.

Being at our cabin along  Lake Nicatous always makes me marvel at the beauty of God’s creation. This delightful time with our Pittsburgh family made those reflections even more vivid. Watching our son and daughter-in-law kindly, firmly, parent their four children reminded me of the glorious beauty and goodness of marriage and family.

But one tiny, amusing incident reminded me that sin lurks even in the most lovely places. Patchy is our delightful, almost 4-year-old grandson. (His real name is Tobiah Basil, but one day when he was about 18 months old, he suddenly announced that his name was Patchy!)  It was simply wonderful to read Patchy books and get our two hugs each evening as he left for bed. 

But one evening as we ate at the picnic table overlooking the lake, Patchy kept sneaking looks at the cookies waiting for dessert. Everyone could see he wanted to take a cookie as he ran around the table. But his mother said he must first have three spoonfuls of soup. Patchy, however refused the soup and kept edging close to the cookies. So I moved the cookie plate to the center of the table where he could not reach it. Instantly Patchy was cross and fled to his mother. But he still continued stubbornly – sinfully?-- refusing to take three spoonfuls of soup. So no cookies for Patchy that evening.

 About  30 minutes later, as his dad was carrying Patchy off for bed, I asked Patchy for my regular two good night hugs. But Patchy refused – – still resenting my moving the cookies out of his reach! Fortunately, his resentment quickly dissolved and he came back just a few seconds later for his regular evening double hugs with everyone.

Patchy’s stubbornness and then temporary resentment (growing independence, yes, but also perhaps early emergence of what might become sinful rebellion) prompted me to reflect on the astonishing mix of beauty and tragedy, goodness and evil in our world. Around the world, hundreds of millions of children and adults revel in the goodness and joy of wholesome family life. Other hundreds of millions experience the pain and wounds of broken families. Hundreds of millions of children and adults enjoy the good gifts of abundant food, safe homes and delightful vacations. Other hundreds of millions suffer the agony of desperate poverty, devastating wars and wretched refugee camps.

Our world is an astounding mixture of beauty and ugliness, joy and agony. So  many little children never experience the safe, loving families that all my grandchildren enjoy. So many little children lack the abundant food and almost unlimited educational opportunities that all my grandchildren enjoy. I rejoice with all those who enjoy these good gifts of creation and wholesome family life. But I grieve with those who suffer the agony of their absence.

Sixteen days with four wonderful grandchildren and their happily married mom and dad fill my heart with gratitude for how splendid and beautiful the Creator’s best gifts are.  But remembering that so many of God’s beloved children suffer terribly because of poverty and sin moves me to continue  to try to do what I can to help all God’s children enjoy what all my grandchildren can just take for granted.

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