I picked up the rock without much thought. I just wanted something to hold in my hand as my alone thoughts swirled under the gnarled shadowed arms of the ancient oak. I chose the oak because its sturdy trunk represented strength – something I desperately needed at the moment. I wanted a tree hug! I wanted it to wrap its twisted branches around me and breathe strength into me; renewing me. As my lips quivered and the nose snot dripped, a tidal wave of sadness washed over my soul. I feared the awfulness would take root in my heart and burden me with a forever heaviness. The burden of sadness was filling my brain with its mournful song as I aimlessly snatched the rock from its mossy resting place.
I held the stone in my hand and studied its smooth surface willing it to reveal the erasing sadness secret formula. It didn’t hold any secret formula, though. It was just a rock in a cemetery under an oak tree.
Earlier today, I was anxiously trying to get to the cemetery to visit my mother’s grave. I had avoided this moment for over thirty years and I felt that I was finally ready to face the reality of my deep pain. I left Washington DC and expected to arrive at the cemetery in New Jersey in about four hours. I didn’t get there in four hours. Instead, I became hopelessly lost as I aimlessly meandered through countless towns. Yet, almost every town I drove through brought back flickers of childhood memories. It was as if I had opened some long lost treasured scrap book in a dusty attic. I drove through the pages of yesteryear; the loud jabber of the duck pond, the tree-lined memory lane where I lost my shoe in the leaf mountain, and the old red shuttered house with the juicy-fruit gum kitchen drawer. But, no matter the twist or turn, not one road led me to the cemetery. Finally, out of desperation, I pounded the steering wheel and, through trembling lips, shouted out to God, “I want to see my mother!” I screamed at Him, “I am ready to find her! Please, God, help me find her!”
I turned one last corner and finally, after 7 hours of exploring every nook and cranny of my childhood, I saw the pillared gates of the cemetery towering over the distant trees.
I drove through the gates as the sinking sun cast a primrose hue over the manicured grounds. I thought I would remember where my mother’s grave rested in this massive acreage. I had been here once before when we buried my grandmother three decades earlier. However, I didn’t even know if I came through the right entrance. Once I actually passed through the gates, I looked for the statue I remembered from thirty years ago. But, there were numerous statues that all looked the same. I drove from one corner of the cemetery to the next vainly hoping that something would spark a memory in the recesses of my mind. I searched grave markers as the sun slowly descended and covered everything in deep shadows. Finally, I gave up and found the old oak where I sat on a knotty root and cried.
My face puffed, my eyes swelled and my nose ran like a faucet as my tears made tracks down my face. “I want my mother!” I bawled. “Where are you, God!” Silence. He didn’t answer me. In the quietness I plucked the solitary stone from its mossy resting place by my foot and angrily shook it at God.
Then, as if out of the rock itself, came an immediate sense of calm. A quiet awakening arose in me as a little voice broke through my ramblings and whispered, “Spend time with the living.” “Spend time with the people you love because your time is a most precious gift.” My sobbing immediately ceased as a quiet stillness overcame my sadness. Then, one more voice spoke. It was a mighty voice that spoke a profound truthfulness, “Be still and know that I am God.”
I believe that He wouldn’t let me find my mother’s grave until I acknowledged in my heart that my dead mother cannot have a stronghold on my life any longer. I must allow myself to grieve her loss and I must allow myself to embrace the sadness so that I can make room for the joy of spending time with people I love. God knew I had to relive my childhood that day. He knew I had to experience the utter frustration of not finding my mother’s grave because I had to come to the point where I cried out to Him for His strength.
That evening, I left my exhausted, drained emotions at the foot of the oak. I picked up the stone and wearily trekked back to my car. I lovingly placed the stone on the seat next to me. In my exhaustion, the stone provided a sense of serenity. I found a hotel near the cemetery so that I could return in the morning.
The next morning I knew that I was really ready to say goodbye to my mother. I found her grave with the help of the cemetery staff. I kneeled by her marker and held the rock as I embraced the sadness that filled me. “I’m ok, mom.” I told her through my sobs, “I’m ready to say goodbye.” I blew her a kiss as I watched a puff from a dandelion slowly descend over her grave. It floated in the air and briefly touched my shoulder before catching a breeze. I whispered these words as I followed the dandelion puff’s ascension into to indigo sky, “Be still and know that I am God.”