I wrote this over a decade ago, when Chris was home in France during a summer break from college. But it seems strangely appropriate now as we continue to work through all hard, hard things of 2020 and beyond. I am thankful that weeping and rejoicing can coexist in the beautiful paradox of God’s love.
They have come here to grieve. And to celebrate. Right now they are four. Soon others will arrive and by this weekend, our house and yard will be overflowing with youth. As it should be. Again.
Beau is barking as he welcomes another student. Chris is making pancakes. The house is littered with backpacks and mattresses and empty milk cartons and plates with brownie crumbs. The kids greet me with smiles and tears. They do not differentiate between the two because life has caught them off guard.
He died tragically, in a boating accident on the Lac d’Annecy at 2:30 on a Sunday morning. A student from their class. 19. A childhood friend. They grew up with him. In the early morning hours, as the boat shot through the water in a 5 kilometer per hour zone, it struck a rock, was projected against a cliff and he and the four other young passengers were hurled into the water. Two survived. Three did not.
All 19, all bright young students, France’s elite, celebrating the end of a grueling year of studies. Too carefree, too sure that life was before them, indestructible, invincible.
Ironically, at that same lake on that same night, a group of 15 young people from our church were camping out, singing praises to the Lord, sharing laughter and dreams and the Bible. The noise from the impact of the boat against the rocks woke a few of them. They heard the distant sirens and went back to sleep.
Paul and I had been in Montpellier for the weekend, rejoicing with friends at the marriage of their daughter. Heading back toward Lyon, Paul driving and I in a semi-sleep, exhausted from a full weekend of visiting friends and the festivities that lasted into the wee morning hours, we heard of a boating accident on Lac d’Annecy. I was thankful that we had already talked to Andrew on the phone, reassured that he had returned safely from the young people’s weekend there. I dozed again.
Once back home, I immediately called the friend’s residence where Chris had spent the weekend. The father answered the phone, speaking softly, almost incomprehensibly. Finally he said, “I’m sorry. I’m stunned. I’ve just learned that one of Charley’s classmates was killed in the boating accident in Annecy.” And that is how we found out.
Years ago, when we first moved to Lyon, and Chris and Andrew started attending their new school, Cité Scolaire Internationale, Chris and Adrien had become friends. I remember how happy we were when Adrien asked to attend church with us, and I remember the Sundays when we would drive to his house, tucked into the prestigious 3eme arrondissment of Lyon and Adrien would come out of the house, smiling, ready for church.
It didn’t last long. Perhaps a few months. He had other interests; life was full for all of our teens.
On other occasions there were parties at his house. I met his parents, both dentists, so young and successful and kind. And his two younger sisters. A beautiful, tight-knit family.
Now they sit in that refurbished manor, with the manicured grass and the sunporch overlooking the pool, in a deep grief. I imagine them there and I cry. Life is cruel.
And our young people come to cry too. They do not want to be apart, alone in their grief. And so they wade through the heartache together, first at one house, then off to school, then to another home, then into town. A band of friends, intercepted by death, brought together by death, bonded ever more tightly by tragedy.
Fidji has known Adrien from the time she was a little girl. Charles, too. They fluctuate from disbelief to rage to despair. The students hug each other, cry, share memories and find themselves laughing hysterically at some long forgotten antic in which they and Adrien were involved.
Paul and I watch and pray, hold out our arms to hug them, suddenly vulnerable children again. I bake brownies, I send notes on Facebook and I write. Writing has always been for me a solace, a way to grieve.
I write because I cannot not write, because I want to remember this. I want to remember the strength of the human heart in the face of tragedy. Fresh faces, young, with the world in front of them, ripped in two by the unthinkable, holding each other up.
Adrien’s friends will all don light blue shirts on Friday for the funeral. Held at the thousand-year-old St. John’s Cathedral, the funeral will be for the three young people who perished in the boat accident. The church will overflow. The tears will flow, overflow, too.
Last night, when Chris, Charles, Sam and Fidji arrived at our house, they were wearing black pants and white shirts, after having spent the evening serving a meal to the homeless at the Salvation Army post. They were exhausted but giddy because, although the week was filled with grief, it also held a bright spot. Fidji and two other young people from church had found out that morning that they had passed the compulsory tests allowing them to proceed from their first year of medical school to the second. No small feat, basically meaning their grades were among the top 100 out of a class of 700. Reason to celebrate. An extremely competitive and demanding year ending with success.
And so they celebrate. And cry. And laugh. And eat brownies. And talk.
I watch them there, drained and yet eager to try on life and I am thankful for the words of Scripture, so very concise. So true. “Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.” Sometimes, oddly enough, life allows us to do that very thing with the same group of people. Life is like that. An endless roller-coaster ride.
I am thankful for another verse of Scripture. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills; from whence cometh my help? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
Questions? Oh, yes, they abound. Answers? Few and even those are far from appropriate right now.
Weeping and rejoicing and lifting our eyes, we continue.
ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and her blog.