Sunday, September 30, 2007

Little Boy Blues

We just returned from our 2nd Annual trip to Apple Hill, the best place on the planet. What made the trip even more special was the fact that Lindsay drove up from L.A. just to meet us! We spent Saturday browsing through Northern California apple orchards and wineries, indulging in every form of apple goodness.

Lindsay was 2 or 3 when we first took her to Apple Hill and let her and Jonah run wild in the orchards and pick out their own pumpkins. After that, it became a family tradition, and we made the trek from Sacramento to Apple Hill many times each fall. Even though we've moved around quite a bit since leaving the Sacramento area, we try to get back to "the Hill" every chance we get.

There's another stop we try to make whenever we are down that way. We drop by the Mt. Vernon cemetary and visit Jonah's grave. Sometimes bearing offerings (pinwheels, flowers, even pumpkins), we gather around his small plot and share our favorite stories.

Jonah isn't there, of course, and his headstone is a comforting reminder of that fact. Greg and I were still in the hospital recovering from our injuries when Jonah's funeral and burial arrangements were made by our pastor and friend, Mike Cook. I believe Mike was inspired by the Holy Spirit when he ordered the inscription for the headstone: Jonah Thomas Strannigan, Born Dec. 6, 1979--made perfect August 30, 1984. (Jonah had been autistic).

For reasons I've never understood, Mike added an engraving of Little Boy Blue to the headstone. The child is blissfully sleeping on an inviting bed of hay, oblivious to the world and its woes. His little brass horn is clutched tightly in his hand while the sheep and cows stand guard around him.

Terribly sweet, really.

But that's because I know the nursery rhyme . . .

Take a three-year-old child, however, who has just been through a terrible car accident and is dealing with the reality that she will never again play with (or be tormented by) her older brother. Bring her to the graveside, show her the shiny new headstone and explain to her that Jonah's body is buried underneath the grassy patch. But emphasize--with all the cheer a broken heart can muster--that Jonah isn't actually there, under the ground. He's really up romping about with Jesus and the Angels in heaven.

Lindsay gazed wordlessly at the headstone as we spoke, appearing to take it all in. We didn't know until years later what she was really thinking . . .

Sometime during her fifth year, Lindsay began to resist visits to Jonah's grave. One day, I pressed her for a reason and she replied:

"Mom, I don't want to see Jonah dead on the ground anymore."

Never having heard the nursery rhyme, Lindsay assumed that Little Boy Blue was Jonah. We'd told her that Jonah's body was in the ground, so she figured it was his lifeless form crumpled on the hay! Stunned by her misinterpretation, I quickly explained the real story behind the engraving. Lindsay was visibly relieved and agreed to go with me to the grave, but it broke my heart to think that trauma had been heaped upon trauma during our previous visits.

Who knew the child had harbored such horrific ideas in her heart? Thank God she finally expressed her dread, so the lie could be exposed and the truth could set her free . . .

As I reflected on that incident on the long drive back to Oregon yesterday, I realized that I, too, have unwittingly misinterpreted the images of Jesus I've seen projected by the church, society and even my own faulty grasp of the Word.

But more about that in another blog on another day . . .