Chapter 5: Virginia (1962-1966)
Chapter 5: Virginia (1962-1966)
Life Changing Events which Challenged My Faith
After watching the movie, “Thirteen Days” with Daddy about the Cuban Missile Crisis that occurred in the days surrounding my ninth birthday in 1962, I wondered what my family was doing at the time. When I called Dad to ask him about it, he said he vaguely remembered something but was too busy starting a church to have followed it closely. So much of history takes place while normal people live their lives, which this writing proves.
Some legalistic Christians teach and preach that everything we perceive as unpleasant reflects some type of punishment from God. Others are convinced that the ugliness of life is always a satanic attack but I’m sure no uniquely dreadful sin in my life or evil assault caused five unpleasant events the following year. However, these events made me question life, my faith, and wonder about the future in a unique way. The pragmatic view of life I developed can, in a large part, be attributed to my reactions to those events.
Exactly a month after I turned ten, I sat in my fourth-grade classroom on November 22, 1963, when the man who became one of my favorite theologians, the intellectual Christian writer, C. S. Lewis died. However, this was a non-event to most of America because another loss that day preoccupied our nation.
My fourth-grade teacher, Miss Mock, visibly upset, paused before dismissing us to recess after public school Bible class, that Friday. She asked us to pray because someone in Dallas shot President Kennedy. After the prayer, we went outside to play, narcissistically confident as our entire baby boomer generation, that the world revolved around us and nothing “bad” would happen to us, especially when we prayed. Our President was ours, therefore, he was good, so he couldn’t die.
Our idealistic little world, reinforced by black and white television stories that successfully resolved everything in thirty minutes with actors wearing dress shoes and Sunday clothes, didn’t prepare us for the reality we faced that afternoon.
Miss Mock’s words shattered our egocentric illusions when we returned to a silent classroom where she sat at her desk not hiding her tears over the President’s death. We probably stayed until the end of the school day but I cannot imagine that we accomplished much.
“But we prayed…” I thought. “Why did God allow him to die?”
We lived through the next few bizarre days while Mom and Dad almost constantly listened to the radio events surrounding a Presidential death. This in itself was odd since Mom didn’t like a lot of noise and the radio was off more than on during daylight hours when radio stations in Virginia and most of the US at the time only broadcast AM frequency and from dawn to dusk.
I’m fairly certain Dad did not vote for President Kennedy in the 1960 election, concerned about his politics. If Dad felt Kennedy’s assassination was God’s punishment, he didn’t say that. (Seems like others did, however!) Based on actions of JFK’s successor, LBJ; our nation, and specifically thousands of young men damaged in one way or another in Vietnam, suffered greatly from the loss of President Kennedy. (LBJ escalated conflicts in Southeast Asia that killed many drafted, not volunteer, young men. However, the Lord knew that when He allowed the assassination and LBJ’s presidency but that’s not what I would have done!)
We did not join the mob of people thirty miles away in DC for the Presidential funeral on the chilly November day. In the early 1960’s, a person could still drive into Washington, DC and easily find a parking place on the streets. It was a hassle but it could happen and did each time we went there for our regular family field trips.
The bitterly cold weather caused the only miscue in the ceremony when the official Army bugler at Arlington Cemetery muffed a note of “Taps” that he played flawlessly hundreds of previous times.
The second tough thing that happened that year was that a 27-year-old man in the church died of cancer not long after Christmas. My desk in fourth grade overlooked the Hillsboro graveyard and on that day I grew bored waiting for others to finish and Miss Mock to collect our papers after one assignment. We weren’t allowed to take anything out of our desks if we finished early. We had to just sit there, so I looked out the window and saw Dad conducting this man’s graveside service. I wrote on the outside of my folded paper. My writing must have been pretty morbid for a ten-year-old, judging from my teacher’s negative reaction. I wrote about children losing their father, wondering what I would feel if I were in their places and what their lives would be like without a daddy.
The third event involved a new meteorological term adopted by the scientific community the previous year, “tsunami.” A tsunami is a series of ocean waves generated by any rapid-scale disturbance of seawater. Earthquakes can cause tsunamis which are measured by a Richter scale. The math of the Richter scale amazed me, too, as we learned about it. The Richter scale grows by powers of 10. An increase of one point means the strength of a quake is 10 times greater than the level before it. It works like this: An earthquake registering 2.0 on the Richter scale is 10 times stronger than a quake registering 1.0. A quake registering 3.0 is 10 X 10 or 100 times stronger than a quake registering 1.0. A 4.0 is 10X10X10 or 1,000 times greater than 1.0. So, a 9 point quake was 10 X 10 X 10 X 10 X 10 X 10 X 10 X 10 or 100,000,000 (one hundred million) times stronger than a 1.0 quake!
I’m sure it was coincidental that God allowed Good Friday 1964 to teach us the meaning of tsunamis. An Alaskan earthquake, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, caused a tsunami and more interest in Miss Mock’s science lessons.
We experienced it vicariously. Our next Weekly Reader newspaper showed a picture of a ten-year-old boy looking at the devastating crevices that had been his home, crying for lost loved ones and fortunes. Pictures in a National Geographic Magazine of the fissures terrified me.
Mom and Dad assured me we’d never live where earthquakes occur but the earthquake wasn’t my primary concern. The uncertainty of life was and no one could keep a promise that it wouldn’t happen to me.
The fourth thing that happened that year is that the Gray’s new baby girl suffered crib death. Meg told me years later she, as a three-year-old, still remembered hearing her mom’s screams upon finding the baby not breathing.
Meg and we children were not allowed to attend the funeral with Tommy, Sandy, their parents and ours. By tacit agreement none of them discussed it. Well, except for one time when Tommy, no doubt trying to impress Anne, said something about the baby being buried in a shoebox and turning into a skeleton.
The horror of their refusal to discuss a child’s death made me think they didn’t want to think of the baby. I wondered if I’d be remembered if I died.
The fifth event, in the fall just before I turned eleven, involved Raymie, our 16-year-old cousin's death in a traffic accident riding home from football practice. He sat in the middle of the front seat when the teenaged driver lost control and hit a tree. Everyone else walked away uninjured but he died instantly.
Dad officiated at the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery and he and Mom, again, chose that we would not go even though Sandi, Raymie’s sister, is my age and included in the group of six girl cousins at family gatherings.
At the time, I wished I knew how to talk to Sandi about her loss. I wondered if her brother could die, could mine? It would be years and many tears before I could let people talk about their losses without allowing my discomfort to limit showing concern. Death is not God’s plan and I believe the pain surrounding survivors and bereavement is part of the fall’s curse.
Since then, I can rationally say there’s no correlation between hitting a “zero” year and tragedy but to a sensitive pre-teen girl all these events linked in my mind. My choice was to react to these events in a very unhealthy, neurotic way by assuming that I was responsible.
Fortunately, Dad constantly impressed what I knew and believed in THE ONLY certainty that exists – The Lord Jesus Christ and His DAD runs everything. So, I gained one positive thing from watching events which didn’t directly involve me but shaped me forever, the reality that I cannot be in charge of the world.
The five events which brought up questions about the Lord’s omniscience over the world and my life changed my perspective and theology forever because prayer didn’t seem to prevent personal tragedies. Once reading Psalm 91, I realized that verses 5 and 6 showed exactly what I experienced in that year:
5 Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night(what’s more terrifying to a child that a sibling dying?); nor for the arrow that flieth by day (JFK’s assassination); 6 Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness(Cancer is such a pestilence on our society); nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday(like a tsunami).
In subsequent years I encountered these questions again as events occurred which allowed each to hit closer to home and I embraced the peace in Psalm 91 in each situation.
I hope as you encounter tsunamis in your life, you’ll be able to find comfort in calling on the Lord who promises at the end of Psalm 91. God doesn't say trouble won't happen, but “I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.”