Fall Getaway

My Mom texted early in the morning, telling me that Dad was on the floor again. He needed help to get off the ground. But before I could throw myself and all my stuff into the car to head over to their condominium, my Mom texted again to say that Dad had already used the push-button device around his neck to call the squad, so my services were no longer required.

So, I stuck to my plan for the day and drove East on Ohio Routes 59 and 5. I played Sufjan Stevens‘s Carrie & Lowell album as I drove, and the album played for almost exactly the same amount of time it took me to drive through Blackhorse, Ravenna, Center of the World, Leavittsburg, Champion, North Warren, and into the parking lot on the West side of Mosquito Creek Lake. The sky was overcast. Occasional raindrops fell onto the windshield. The trees crowding the roadway were near the peak of their Fall colors, but everything felt subdued, muted, depressed.

I was feeling sad and heavy-hearted for a lot of reasons. But my Dad’s deterioration kept working its way to the front of my mind. When I got out of the car and started walking the mucky trails near the lake, I felt like I was squishing through personal grief and trauma, zipped up and bundled up against the cold. Oddly though, the more I walked, the less I minded the muck, the lower I unzipped the hood of my sweatshirt, and the less complicated I started to feel.

For a minute, the sun came out — streaming through the forest canopy like a cathedral of a thousand stained-glass windows — and I felt my heart starting to lift like a hot air balloon, nothing but a sandbag or two keeping it tentatively tethered to the earth. I snapped some pictures with the Camera app on my phone and jotted down some of the unraveling threads of thought in my Notes app. But then the sky clouded over again. A light drizzle started to fall, obscuring the view of the far side of the lake. So I zipped up my sweatshirt again and kept walking further through the muck. I didn’t feel much of the rain, since the tree canopy was still largely intact. But what I did feel was waves of truth starting to wash over my soul as I opened up to the Book of Ecclesiastes on my Bible app and continued walking. It spoke the language of my heart. It resonated deeply — reminding me of the complexity of the world, more or less unchanged for thousands of years.

This section of the Bible speaks to the meaninglessness of human suffering. Which has been most recently playing out for me through my Dad’s suffering. There were several times on Saturday when my Dad just froze up: both mentally and physically. He couldn’t say a word for minutes at a time, and when he did finally manage to speak, it was only a whisper. Even the whisper was a word salad that didn’t make any sense. And when he was able to add some gestures to his word salad, it seemed like he was worried about some imaginary creatures running around the coffee table.

He’s become so sick, so slow, so unrecognizable from the man that I knew him to be earlier in life. His body is breaking down, with more and more of the tremors in his feet and legs when he’s trying to start walking. There are times when it seems that he simply cannot convince his legs to shuffle forward, and then other times when he cannot convince them to stop shuffling. It’s hard for him to eat… and use the bathroom… and just find a comfortable position for sitting or lying down to take a nap. It all feels so meaningless. My Dad’s decline has felt both quick and slow at the same time, and I honestly can’t decide which is worse. His consciousness is bleeding away day by day, month by month, year by year. And there’s nothing that any of us can do to stop it. Still, we can walk with God through it. And that’s exactly what I felt like God was inviting me to do, as I hiked through that cathedral forest.

As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut.

Ecclesiastes 5:1

At the end of my hike, my legs were tired — but my heart was activated. I got back in my car and drove to a diner called Monty’s, on the North end of the lake. Their sign said they were open until 3PM, and it advertised a special on fried chicken. However, when I stepped inside there were no other customers in the seating area. The end of the diner opposite the door featured a semi-octagonal bar with stools, and the rest of the room was filled with maybe eight tables surrounded by funky chairs covered in brownish-orange vinyl. The walls were covered in newspaper clippings and photo prints of local hunters and the bucks they’d bagged. I asked if the waitress behind the bar if were still serving lunch. She nodded and told me to sit anywhere I’d like. So I plopped down at a table and got out my journal to start recording the insight that I’d received from the forest and from Ecclesiastes.

When the waitress asked what I’d like to eat, I ordered “The Big Monty” burger and ate it in relative silence, with only the low drone of the Spectrum Cable news program over one corner of the bar. Another customer arrived right around the time that my food came out to the table, and he and the waitress chatted amiably while I finished my meal. I thought I might linger at the diner until I could check into the AirBnB I’d reserved for the night, but the waitress brought me the check without even giving me the opportunity to order a slice of pie for dessert.

So I ended up driving across nearby causeway and down the East side of the lake to another section of Mosquito Creek Lake State Park. I hiked another two-and-a-half miles while finishing off the last two chapters of Ecclesiastes — which may have been the best two chapters (Though honestly, who’s to say? They’re all so good!).

It felt so cathartic to reflect on the Bible’s words of wisdom while walking through the falling leaves of Mosquito Creek Lake State Park. I believe that my Dad heeded the warnings of Ecclesiastes 12, honoring his Creator in the days of his youth, before growing old. Now, his legs are starting to tremble. His shoulders are stooped. His eyes are seeing the world dimly. His hair has turned white like an almond tree in bloom. He’s dragging along without energy like a dying grasshopper. He’s nearing the grave, his everlasting home. It’s all very, very sad — but it’s nothing new. There’s nothing new under the sun. Or under the clouds, for that matter. This is the meaningless life we all must live on this side of God’s Kingdom. It’s strangely soothing to hear corroboration and confirmation of my observations and experiences in the wisdom of Solomon.

None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death. There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle.

Ecclesiastes 8:8

Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us.

Ecclesiastes 7:3

I trust that I’m being refined through this whole process, and that the end of my Dad’s refinement is approaching. That dark battle. I don’t think there’s any way around the grief; only a path through it. It doesn’t help when the grief of loss is accompanied by seasonal depression… and work stress… and general fatigue. But I find that it does help to take a little Fall Getaway. To process and pray and soak in the sad, sweet, ephemeral beauty of the changing seasons.

This entry was posted in Aging Parents, Family, God, Health, Hiking, Introspection, Middle Age, Ohio, Prayer, Seasonal Depression, The Bible, Weather, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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