Above all shadows rides the Sun

At about five minutes to two on the afternoon of Wednesday the twenty-ninth of August, I was coming around the corner between the bakery and the place I’d parked my car, to get my lunch. As I turned, I saw a certain truck coming down the hill, and as it slowed to turn onto Main Street, Levi stuck his long arm out of the window and waved at me, grinning. I waved back with all the enthusiasm I could put into my own arm, and then the truck turned and was gone.

Thirty-four hours later, he was dead by his own hand.

I didn’t know, when I waved and smiled to him, that I was saying goodbye.

In the first couple of days I focused enough on the had-I-knowns — I don’t want to do any more of that. I think everyone has their own if-onlys. If only I had said this differently. If only I hadn’t left so early. If only I’d taken that text more seriously (the thing about a text from him saying I love you is that it’s a bit random but not out of character). That’s not what this story is about.  

He wasn’t the kind you’d think would kill himself. Lots of people have said it’s never the ones you’d think would be in danger who end up committing suicide, so when the charming well-beloved guy, who knew everyone, is suddenly dead, you look around you at the other people you never worried about, whose presence at church or work or in class you took for granted, just like his, and you wonder who’s going to lose their battle next. You start to see how frail is the thread binding all of us to life. That’s partly what this story is about.

This story is emphatically not a story to explain why he killed himself. Applying reason to a preeminently unreasonable act will drive you mad and serves no good purpose.

What is this story, as far as I can see at seven weeks in? A Christian suicide is a unique situation, and the hope and even eucatastrophe we have, even in one of the worst times, is worth showing people. We mourn, but not as those who have no hope. I’m chronicling the effects his death is having on the family, and the church, and the community, and places quite removed from the immediate area.

We’re finding out just how many people have known someone who committed suicide, and that among other things is driving us to try to help. Help those whose grief never goes away, help those who might be tempted to give in and be the cause of that grief. His father wrote a letter, four days after he died, which was published in the local paper, and picked up and published a couple of towns over, and has made its way into the Cities and across state lines. My sister and I took a couple dozen copies to our town’s police department (because that’s what it means to be pro-life, after all) when a former part-time policeman killed himself the week before last.

I’ve been doing a little talking to people outside the church, and seeing how much harder they have it when trying to process suicides that have affected them is. . . strange. I mean, it’s one thing to have his siblings able to sing “Be Still My Soul” and us all listening and believing it; and then you go away and find people for whom that’s just a bandaid over a bleeding wound, who think that can’t possibly be any help, because look at how it’s such an immense tragedy.

And then you come home past the cemetery and you realize, yes, it is a wound which will never entirely heal this side of the resurrection, and it’s dark and indeed tragic (he threw away his life for no good reason!), and the grief will always be there just under the surface — but that doesn’t make “Be Still My Soul” any less true, or its last verse any less powerful; more so, in fact, that even in spite of this we’ve got hope (we’ll have him back at the Resurrection!). So, in writing, I can’t afford to gloss over the things that make this so awful, but neither can I lose sight of the good which is coming in spite of it. The bad things and the good things both exist, and the bad things (however huge they are) don’t make the good ones any less important or less real. Maybe that’s partly what John means by “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”.

The conflict central to the story is how can you have a world where it is true both that Christianity is a message of hope in the midst of unbelievable suffering and that a Christian committed the ultimate hopeless act?

Give me a few thousand words (or a lot more than that) and I’ll find out. This is the heaviest thing I’ve ever written, and it may end up the best of my stories. I know it’s an important one. It’s going to be a while, but when it’s done (at a point I can’t yet see, in all its pain and splendour), I’m going to get it published somehow.

I can’t collect all the details of everybody’s story, nor even the most important ones from the people most closely concerned. I can’t guess people’s hearts, though their deeds can give hints. But I’m gathering what I can into my notebook, and typing up those notes in more detail while the memory is fresh, and from there expanding into grammatically correct paragraphs and things. And later, if we ever hit a point where I can tell “this is a good stopping spot”, I’ll go back and pick out the things which come up repeatedly, or which show a certain insight into somebody’s character, and the minor things which may be good in their own way but don’t affect much of the story as a whole will get cut. This is the way I do nonfiction as a rule, but in this case there’s just so much stuff floating around that I can’t grasp it all. Everyone can tell the story of where they were and what they were doing and what time it was when they heard, and how things have been in the weeks since, and what they’ve done, and how the effects have radiated out, through them, into far-flung communities all over the place — and I simply cannot hold all of that. The story would get bogged down. 


Stay alive, people. Every human life matters, if for no other reason than that it’s an image of God — nothing you do or fail to do can lessen that worth. Read more Chesterton and Tolkien, if you can, and remind people that hope isn’t foolish, for your sake and for theirs, before it’s too late. Learn from other people’s mistakes that people care, even if you don’t feel like they do (there were over three hundred people at his funeral; feelings lie), and there is always, always, hope. 

Beyond all towers strong and high,

Above all mountains steep,

Above all shadows rides the Sun,

And stars forever dwell:

I will not say the Day is done,

Nor bid the stars farewell.

Posted in Non-fiction, Ordinary life, Poetry, work in progress, Writing | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Work and woolsacks

Today is the beginning of Fall Break, where I get exactly two days off of class. Still, it’s four days in a row where I don’t go to school, so that’s nice. It’s about time.

We have our first concert of the season on the 26th, with no rehearsal next week, and then rehearsals on Tuesday, Thursday, and right before on Friday, so that’s going to be fun. We’ve been video calling the Motley Crew almost every week, though mostly we just see Joel and Anni. David continues to be my comic relief when he’s in class, and goodness knows I need it. For various reasons this semester is exhausting.

Someday I will type up my notes from British Literature and Historiography and share them. I’ve been learning interesting things. In the other Historiography class we went chronologically and looked how people in the past thought of history, which was good; in this one we’re doing something different, and having the two together is helpful.

Ethics continues to be very introductory, despite being a 300-level class. I did a sort of presentation, very informal, on Aquinas. I have one very arrogant classmate who gets put with me when we do group work, as if group work wasn’t annoying enough already. (He doesn’t know everything — he admitted this week to having just learned that chickens will eat pumpkins, so he’s not as bad a know-it-all as one of my sister’s classmates started out as.)

There’s an Undergraduate Research Conference every fall, which means a lot of Ed and Ag majors running around in suits talking about posters. For Ethics I have to do a poster presentation and for my Creative Writing major I have to read certain pieces aloud to people, both on the same day, and we don’t know what time each one is at, so I hope I don’t have to be in two places at once. I am not looking forward to that at all.

And then there’s my actual job (as opposed to the orchestra job, which in the common opinion isn’t as real) two days a week.

And on top of that, since the end of the first week of class, I have dropped all writing projects which aren’t absolutely essential for my grades because I’ve taken on an immense new nonfiction project. When it’s farther along I may write about it in more detail.

I had to write a story for my fiction independent study, and I did a thing about Olivia and Dr Rieppel getting lost in Hungary, just for the fun of it, and the professor laughed in all the right places and said it might be the best thing of mine she’d read yet. So that made my day. Merely a trifle! Merely a trifle! And it isn’t really finished! She said not to ruin the ending, and we’ll find out whether I have, but I think it’s okay.

And finally, I came across this somehow, and I wish church business meetings were this much fun.

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Fire and fleet and candlelight, part I

WordPress Reader readers are advised this and the previous post are mostly pictures linked to Pinterest and may not show up, etc.

Also I hope to have a substantive sort of post later in the week, but if it’s what I have in mind it’s going to take a lot of thought to write, and I don’t have much leisure for that just now.

Seuss creatures are period, evidently.

This elephant looks a bit tired of her small friend’s antics.


A bundragon, perhaps?

Of course you shouldn’t trust him, but he does look so sorry for whatever he’s being scolded for.

This leopard must have been home-schooled, he looks so socially awkward.

A succession of bats:


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Fire and fleet and candlelight, part II

(EDITED TO ADD: the astute among you will have noticed that this is a “part II” for which there is no “part I”. This is because I can’t keep things straight, as usual. In my desire to post twice a week again, I made a companion post which I scheduled to go first, then unscheduled it to publish another post instead, forgetting to reschedule it. So that one will hopefully turn up eventually, and I’m not worrying too much about the order.)

He may not be the most realistic medieval lion (though he’s far from the least), but he looks quite nice.

This is how David looks when we tell him dragons might exist. . .

And this is probably a dog who’s going as a dragon for Halloween.

Olivia’s suggested caption was “Oh qweek, I godda do somefing!”

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Small SCA dump

I haven’t been active in the local things lately, from shire meetings on up, and I don’t think I’ll get to an even besides SUN the rest of this year, if that, but I do have a couple of things to share.

First, some useful bling! At a fibre fair a little while ago my mother picked up a bone pin for me, intended for use on shawls or cloaks, but she also brought a small roving sample (which was free). So I experimented. It has a short fast spin, as the smaller medieval spindles are said to.



I haven’t named the dragon yet, because I’m looking for the one that fits just right. Probably short and related to some legend or other.

These two pictures are from St Radegunde’s (second half August and forever ago):

image (1).png

Photo credit: Ann Schde

Look how nicely the hem hangs now!

It was a good veil day other than that it slid forward over my eyebrows a lot and I never did anything about it. It’s starting to droop and lose its nice wrinkles here, which I think is when I grabbed a clementine before the calendar class.


Credit: Ann Schde

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A call for ideas + a Stamford Bridge link

Well, it turns out I have to film an interview which in some way gives the audience an idea of what I and my writing are like. Olivia suddenly has no idea who I am or what I write. I am having a hard time thinking of things that might come across well, since as far as I know neither of us can do video editing. But it occurred to me that I have a few trusty readers who might have ideas, or at least opinions. (There’s also a poster which has to accomplish something similar, but Olivia can probably think of something for that by the due date.)

So do any of you have ideas? Cos the due date for this thing is in about a month.

I forgot today was the anniversary of the battle at Stamford Bridge, because September has gone by much too quickly, but here’s a link to a good post on it: https://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-battle-of-stamford-bridge.html.

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Caution: may explode on impact

I am not at school today, on account of a cold, and I skipped class yesterday too. Olivia was reminiscing about camp last night, and said she wished it would have gone on forever, but I said a week was more than enough time to live with some of the kids. Maybe if it had been about half the size and the annoying ones didn’t come.

This is an abbreviated account of Wednesday of camp.

  We woke up to pouring rain. All the striped and spotted and bright pink umbrellas came out for the walk to breakfast. Once again the Motley Crew, minus Joel, found itself at a small side table. Only today, instead of the boys taking one side and Olivia and me the other, Olivia wound up beside David and I was diagonal from her, with JP next to me.

   We talked quite a bit about rehearsal, and Dr Rieppel’s strained relations with the quartet, and then, what we had not said aloud much yet this week, about people leaving.

   “It’s happening so slowly,” JP said, “and you’re getting blurry,” with the sideways turn of his head that asks if he’s making sense. “Olivia’s getting blurry, and — well, not David — and,” he held up his hand between him and us with fingers splayed, “you’re all getting blurry. I’d kind of rather it were more a clean line.” Only then he’d already be gone. We knew the feeling.

   “LauraLee said I should ask about the board meeting, because I’m sort of involved,” Olivia said, “so what happened last night?”

   He summarized it for her, leaving out the bit where they’d talked about her (though I filled her in on that anyway). “Part of me thinks, you’re leaving, you’re getting out of this, you don’t have to worry about it anymore.” He paused. “But I’ve got family here, I’ll always be tied back here. Well, as long as Schwan’s doesn’t fire my dad,” and he held up a hand with four fingers crossed.

   “Why would you want that to happen?” Olivia asked.

  “He really really dislikes his job, to the point where we’re hoping they’ll be bought out and he’ll be let go, or he can get fired.”

   Somehow the conversation got around to Christmas presents (with a brief detour at the end into Lucky Charms, because JP had a bowl of them for his last course), and JP told us how his family has a tradition of putting warning labels on them. “Warning: large parts. Adults may choke,” was David’s favourite, but there were others, like “Caution: may explode on impact.”

    It was traditional for everyone to wear their camp shirts on the park-concert day and have pictures taken after lunch. When we gathered at noon outside the band room to number off and go to lunch, Michael asked, “Does everyone have a shirt?” (He’d told us before we left the dorm that morning to make sure we either had ours or were wearing them.)

   “I. . . don’t,” David said from over by the hand sanitizer. “I know where it is, I left it in the car —”

  “Sophia will take you back to look for it after lunch before the photos,” Michael eventually decided.

  The footballers arrived. I’d seen them unloading their buses outside the not-air-conditioned dorms, but forgot to mention it until we were all settled in the cafeteria and several dozen of them walked by on the second floor. We heard there were four hundred and fifty this year.

  At lunch Olivia and Joel and JP were talking about college, and Olivia confessed to worrying sometimes that Joel would fall in with the wrong group of friends who’d distract him from practicing. Joel countered that that was unlikely, as in high school he’d turned down everyone for the sake of practicing, and some people had asked him to do bad things. “But I could never do drugs,” he said, “because my parents would kill me, and Bacco would kill me, and there’s you guys — so many people would be in line to kill me.”

  “So you’ve got lines of defence like the Titanic,” JP said, and when Joel didn’t hear him he repeated, “as many lines of defence as the Titanic.”

   Joel and JP were sitting a little separately from Olivia and David and Emma and me, having different conversations. We four were talking about dragons (a lot of these conversations begin like this) with Emma, and I said, “It’s very hard to prove dragons never existed or even that they don’t still exist, because it’s a giant game of hide and seek. You can search the whole world and not find them, but that could be because they moved to a spot you already searched —”

  “But you can’t prove the negative,” David countered. “You never can, it’s impossible. But some things you have to not believe. I can’t prove there isn’t an invisible tower over there,” and he waved toward the middle of the cafeteria where the faculty and the few people not related to our camp were eating, “but it makes life a lot easier if I don’t worry about it.”

  “But you could prove there is a tower over there, if there really was one,” Emma said.

  “If it’s invisible you could still find it by walking into it,” Olivia agreed.

  “All right, an invisible intangible tower over there — but I don’t think there’s one there, just because I have a nagging feeling, based on previous experience, that these things don’t happen” said David, with increasing emphasis on each word.

  “You know, this fall, it will be just the three of us like this at supper,” I said, and the expression on his face as the knowledge sank in (he clearly had not considered this before) baffles description.

   “I can totally see you just sitting there in awkward silence,” Emma said, “until someone goes ‘dragons’.”

   We went on to the reliability of historical records in establishing the existence or nonexistence of various creatures, like unicorns, which David maintained were at best horses with narwhals’ horns tied on, which was controversial. Naturally we couldn’t talk about sources long without getting into Herodotus and Thucydides’ respective styles and agendas. David discounted Herodotus’ reliability to begin with, but opined that Thucydides was “partially reliable”. “Either he’s reliable or he’s not,” I said.

  “Some of the things he says are reliable, because we’ve got other sources that correspond with them, but some of them are just made up,” he explained.

  “Well, he admits he made up the speeches,” I said.

  “See? They all sound the same, which makes sense if they’re made up. So how much can you trust someone who made them up?”

  “But he’s not trying to deceive us into thinking they’re word-for-word accurate, either. I believe he made up the speeches because he said he did, not because they all sound the same. Speeches in real life can sound like each other.”

  “Over fifty years?”

  “Have you ever read minutes from church business meetings?” I said (forgetting for the moment that he couldn’t have).

   “Have you?”

  “Yes, actually; I’ve got the Record Book.”

  “Have you read all of it?”

  “Most of it.”

  “David, you’re just strengthening her points,” Emma laughed, and he fell silent. (For a little while.)

  When people started to be done eating, and a few were standing around waiting for things to happen, Michael called me. “Take David to look for his shirt,” he said as I came over.

  “No, actually,” David said, producing a purple shirt, “I’m fine.”

  I looked first at the shirt in his hand and then at his brother — from whom he’d obviously not borrowed it, per a previous suggestion, as JP was wearing his still. “Where did that come from?”

  “I pulled it out of a hole in my stomach,” David grinned.

  “That sounds painful.”

  “Not really — it’s just cotton.”

  “No, I mean the idea of the hole, no matter what comes out of it.”

  We numbered off and went outside, since it had stopped raining and the sun was out, and lined up on the hill with the tall people in the back. Somewhere during the maneuvers David’s red shirt flew through the air and landed in a heap in the grass. He forgot it at first when we were collecting our things to return to FA.

   Because we needed to leave for the park at about the time we’d normally be heading to supper, the cafeteria donated boxed lunches.

  About half an hour before we were to leave Beth was in the upstairs office making a copy of the Copland score on 11×17 paper, for some reason, and wanting me to finish so she could go move stands and things to the park. I found out she was going to highlight the clarinet part and hope the player could make do with that.

  There wasn’t time to finish printing it on the large paper before rehearsal started. But I remembered having a small score in the music box downstairs, and ran to ask LauraLee if it would be acceptable for our purposes. As I ran down the hall, Lindsey, framed in the sunlight from the door at the other end, called, “Celli, time to load! You should all be here with your instruments!”

   “Yes,” LauraLee said, “but we needed a copy of it for the trumpeter as well.”

   “But there isn’t time! It’s forty-four pages!”

  “Never mind. We need it. You’ll have to be fast.”

   While I was working on it Olivia came in. “All the celli fit in Wes’s car and the others, so we don’t need you to take any. The only thing in the van is Jelli’s David chair.”

  “Okay.” I lifted the top to put the next page in and she turned to leave. “Wait, what?”

  “David’s — cello — chair. Also you ate Lindsey’s supper.”


  “The veggie one was for her. Don’t worry, she’s not upset, she has other food.”

  The boxed lunches brought over from the cafeteria had labels on them, turkey and ham and veggie. I’d thought there were three varieties and chosen accordingly. Now I had something else to feel awful about.

  I managed to finish the scores barely in time, locked the office, ran down with them for Beth, found out I’d forgotten Dr Rieppel’s score in the office, begged Olivia (who was going on the last bus) to save my feet and run that errand for me, and dragged David’s chair back into the building on the reasoning that I might as well bring it on the bus and save having to drive over to the park with its risk of getting lost on the way. But they hadn’t planned on me coming, so space was a little short, and Olivia and I and JP all had to share a seat, not that squishing together bothered us sisters, but JP had no room for his legs and had to sit with his knees almost up to his chin.

  The new music box was not as convenient a shape as the other one, and carrying it with the music and my knitting bag and the trash bags (a half-baked measure intended to protect instruments in case of rain, which would only work if we could hand them out to the fifty or so players before any started to fall) in it as well was no help. I woke up the next morning with two beautiful purple bruises on my knees. We had one bad moment during rehearsal when a large cloud passed over the sun and left us in shadow for a few seconds, but it passed, and the concert remained dry.

   I passed out the scores for the trumpet and clarinet, but the clarinetist declined on account of page-turning being prohibitively frequent. So all that work for the extra copy had been for nothing.

   The concert was the Star-Spangled Banner, Corelli’s Sarabande and Allegro arranged for orchestra instead of chamber group by a modern guy, Carmen overture, St Paul’s Suite, Pirates, Stars and Stripes Forever, not necessarily in that order except for the first and last ones. We rehearsed them in concert order, whatever that was.

  “Pirates,” Dr Rieppel announced, tossing his previous music aside. “Joel,” he said, as he often does when he wants to make a joke in rehearsal, “do you know what the Pirates movies are rated these days?” Joel shook his head. “Arrr!” The man setting up the sound system behind them laughed. It was Dr Rieppel’s last joke to Joel in rehearsal.

  Pirates did sound good, then and later, compared to previous years. The rest of rehearsal went off smoothly until Dr Rieppel called me over at the very end and said, “I need Holst stapled so I can turn the pages properly without them blowing away, you know, so can you run to the convenience store across the street? Here, I’ll put them in proper order for you.”

   Go to a convenience store and just. . . ask for staples? How did that work?

  “Can you get. . . free staples?” I asked. He was having a terrible time getting them in the right order and I only hoped he wouldn’t find out in the middle of the piece that pages five and eight were swapped or something.

  “They should have a stapler there you can use.” He finally finished and handed me the score. “Here, though, in case they don’t, let me get my wallet.” First he had to find it, of course, and then dig through it for the money; then the only bill he could find was a twenty. So, with ten double-sided score pages and a twenty-dollar bill fluttering in my hands, I ran across the street (to the perplexity of an old couple parking by the curb) and into the store, wondering how on earth I was supposed to handle buying a stapler if that were necessary.

  “I need two staples,” I explained to the clerk, who on top of everything else, was disconcertingly tall.

  “What for?”

  “This.” I put the music on the counter and lined the pages up precisely. “For the concert about to start across the street.”

  “Oh.” He handed me a stapler and I punched them in. The first didn’t go all the way through, and I finished it by hand, having gotten pretty good at that sort of thing in my undergraduate career. “Is it music?”

  “It’s for the conductor, so he can see all the parts at once.”

  “Oh. So he doesn’t make mistakes when he’s telling them to do stuff?”

  I had to laugh. “We hope.”

  “Hope it goes well,” he called after me as I charged out the door.

  Mostly it did, if you knew the obstacles we’d faced to get to that point. They fell apart on Copland, which was disappointing, and having heard Holst too many times that week to care anymore, I stopped listening to the St Paul’s Suite and don’t know how it went. A certain part of Bizet (Overture to Carmen) allowed JP to play the way he likes, a way Joel has described as “militaristic”, and Joel was moving as if he were a soloist instead of a lowly second violin, as usual.

   Then it was over, the last regular SMO concert with the quartet and the others. After the applause and the standing ovation (because apparently Stars and Stripes Forever is great art worthy of such homage) everyone stood up and began moving things and putting instruments away, and LauraLee and I got up and prepared to go around asking people for the music they’d just packed up.

   Our parents were sitting a couple of rows from the front, behind me, and as I turned to say hi to them on my way, Dr Rieppel said, “Olivia,” at my back. I turned around, and we all laughed, but he’d passed on. I went to start asking around for music, and Dr Rieppel returned and said, “Orchestra! Please either leave your music on your stands or give it to LauraLee and Olivia!” and a lot of people laughed. This occasioned a lot of people digging through folders to find things. Nobody gave Olivia anything, though; either they’re used to Dr Rieppel mixing us up, or they still don’t know I’m not her.

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