Seventeen years ago today, about this time of the early morning, my daughter Anna was killed. Our daughter. Megan’s sister. Dorothy’s granddaughter. PK and Gloria’s granddaughter. Paul and Kathy’s niece. Christopher and Clara, Andrew, Amanda and Melissa’s cousin. The twins were tiny infants, but Kathy came with them anyway. John and Luan moved out of their home so that my family could stay together through the funeral. Paul and Christopher came almost immediately and stayed with me those first days. I deeply appreciated their presence in the house, especially Christopher’s hugs. Can he really be 19 now? The age Anna was? It is hard to comprehend how much time has passed. Life since them has often felt like driving through the tule fog near Sacramento. You can’t judge time and distance.
Anna wasn’t taken just from the family. She was taken from the world. She touched so many lives. And this crime touched so many lives. It also stole the lives of the friends with her in her car. All their families remember this day – and their cousins and neighbors and friends and friends’ friends. The shock wave ripples through time and space.
Sometime, today, I will have to write a sermon for tomorrow. Life goes on. I will have to wash dishes, too. I should go to the grocery store, but I know I won’t. I should pay bills, but I won’t do that either. I will call Mom and Dad and Megan because they will remember the day. I hope to watch the Michigan basketball game. Life goes on. But it will be hard to focus on any of those things. There has been a strange concoction of low-grade anger, despair and grief brewing since Monday. Thoughts about the day the phone call came will keep rising up to remind me that the incomprehensible happened. And I will think about all those others whose lives have been stolen, whose lives are threatened, whose lives are saddened. There are so many in the parish who have also lost children, or grandchildren, or parents, or lovers, or friends. So many in the world. We can fight death, but we can’t defeat it.
We have been talking about baptism this Lenten season. It keeps taking me back to that moment 37 years ago when I held Anna in my hands as she was baptized. She had been asleep as I held her out over the font. When the pastor poured the water over her head, she woke with eyes wide – but not a stir or peep. Just the startle of receiving a priceless promise. I remember thinking in that moment that she wasn’t mine; she belonged to God. God had entrusted her into my care, but she was God’s.
I will never say that God took her; Brandon took her life. But she never belonged to me; she belonged to God. She still does. The promise abides. As hard as it is for me to wrap my head around that promise, I will trust it. Her song has not perished. Her dance is not done. He laugh is not silenced. Neither are her compassion, her courage, her wisdom, or her love forgotten.