Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter…

It is customary, and useful, at the start of a new year, to look back at the year just past. That brings me to Donna.

Donna pulled out in front of a pick-up truck. The truck driver was not hurt, but Donna was unconscious in the hospital for a week before she died. Her neighbors said she had been a little off lately, probably didn’t even see the truck.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “I would give anything for simplicity on the far side of complexity, but nothing for simplicity on the near side of complexity.”

Donna was a simple woman. On the far side of complexity. She made a good life out of nothing. That is a totally complex life. That is a totally simple life.

The far side of complexity for Donna meant her first husband divorcing her, her 2nd husband committing suicide, the deaths of both her sons in their 20s, one by cancer and one by motorcycle accident, and the suicide of her only grandchild, Jada, at age 19, in Donna’s house.

Donna, though, was committed, to family and friends and God. She was committed to life.

Sometimes her simplicity and commitments made her gullible. She could believe in some rather strange things. Occasionally she would repeat some outlandish conspiracy theory or rumor and all I could do was shake my head. Then I realized she didn’t actually believe it; she just wanted to be part of it, part of what was happening.

I’ve often said that Donna created a life out of nothing. That isn’t quite true. Her own life was often bare. So often it was between hard and non-existent. So she lived in the stories of others. Not live through them, vicariously, but IN them. She didn’t borrow; she participated.

That could make for awkward moments. It also made for wonderful and victorious moments. That was true especially with her classmates.

Jim Shaw and I were talking about what would happen if Donna got well enough to come home. “She doesn’t have anyone to take care of her,” I said. “Well, she knows everybody in Gibson County,” he replied.

That was so true. We took her to lunch one day when we were in town for a class reunion, at that little café down where Moe’s used to be. [1] She introduced us to EVERYONE in the place, employees and customers alike, including some from Lynnville and Stendal, and to all who were anyplace close enough in age, she would say, “I’m sure you remember John McFarland.” There aren’t over a dozen people in the county who remember me, and they are mostly classmates who are still in the home town, but it seemed to Donna that if she knew everyone, surely all the other folks did, too.

Grace Robb, our Latin teacher and one of our class sponsors, along with basketball coach Alva Cato, told Bob Robling at one of our class reunions that she had never seen a class that was as emotionally involved with one another as the class of 55. I like to think that part of that was due to my three years as class president, when I tried hard to make sure nobody in our class was left out of anything. Donna was not much a part of that. She was the Homecoming Queen who lived only in her own story. But as the years went by, she became the center point of our class story, even though we were scattered throughout the world, because she lived in all our stories. She went from simplicity on the near side of complexity through the complex hard times to a level of simple trust in life that few achieve.

Donna used to call us occasionally, over the last 30 years, more often as the years went by. She didn’t have much to talk about. She’d say, “I just want to hear your voice.” One day, though, she mentioned that if anyone came to her door at night they would think she was crazy because she talked to Jesus so loudly.

That closeness to God was what really sustained her. As she lived in the stories of her friends, she lived in God’s Christ story, and in the process, she often brought these lives of ours in which she participated more fully into the God story.

I miss her. I’d like to call her up, just to hear her voice.


I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

1] I worked at Moe’s when I was in high school. Today it would be called a convenience store. It was a gasoline station, with two pumps, and a small grocery store that sold lunch meat and white bread mostly, and a separate building with a car hoist for lubes and oil changes and such. Moe didn’t like to open up on the weekends, or work Sundays or holidays, and we were the only place open for groceries and gas on Sundays and holidays, so I had some wild and busy adventures working there by myself, running in from changing the oil in a car to slice someone a pound of bologna and such. There was no time for washing hands, but I did wipe them off with a greasy rag between jobs.

Daughter Katie Kennedy recently won a “best book of the year” award for What Goes Up, but I can’t remember how to spell the award, so maybe you should just buy a few copies of WGU to read and give as a way of greeting the new year. And also assuring that she’ll have enough money to take care of me in my old age.

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