When Snow Fell In Summer

I would always sit in the back so I could kick off my flip-flops without anyone noticing; for some reason I preferred church barefoot. Besides, with only thirty people in the room on any given Saturday evening the back was still closer than most get on a Sunday morning, which meant I didn’t know what to do with my eyes during the sermon.

When I wasn’t preoccupied with proving I was attentive to the message, I liked to watch people, how their heads bobbed up and down in agreement or how, for some, their Adam’s apples would plunge as if a profound “Amen” was thinking about emerging from their throats only to realize that this was a white-suburban-Baptist church and crawl back into their spirited lungs. (Affirming and thoughtful grunting was, however, encouraged.)

One evening, as I scanned the blessed others surrounding me, I was startled to have my stare met by two restlessly blue eyes, widening for an instant and then shifting somewhere beyond me. The young boy twisted in his chair to touch his sister’s shoulder. She didn’t look up from her fierce scribbling and he didn’t care. He glanced back toward me, then his sister, then me, then nowhere in particular, slowly sliding off his seat in clearly-beloved airplane pajamas.

Some faint whisper of a recent conversation suggested he and his sister had just been adopted, but I couldn’t remember if they were biologically related. It seemed unlikely that two siblings with Down syndrome would be born within a year of each other, but all I remembered from high school genetics was that I lacked talent at sorting fruit flies.

Anyway, that didn’t matter.

As I watched him play on the ground and watched her excitedly draw… something began to press sharply into my soul. My eyes widened in a sudden panic and my body jerked awkwardly.

It wasn’t the most stable time of my life, and I had spent much of that gentle summer being stalked by one red-toothed question:

Why do beautiful things have to suffer?

It had found me again.

I blinked, embarrassed, and then had to keep blinking to stop the tears from brimming over. I wanted nothing more in that moment than to know that these children would make it through every day without ever having to hear someone argue that their lives weren’t worth living, that their joy and sorrow and laughter were formed of some cheaper thing. I needed to know that the bloodless ideology of efficiency and pragmatism would stay the hell away from them. And I knew it wouldn’t. I knew they’d have to learn, at some point, that there are people who say they would have been better off dead.

The boy smiled at me.

And the savage question bit down.

My soul darkened, twisted in confusion, and I left church with a furious prayer blooming around me like a thunderhead on what should have been a cloudless evening.

At some point earlier in the year I had forgotten how to trust God. It probably happened during one of those sleepless nights where I curled up in the corner and begged him to be who he said he was: protector of the orphan, father of the fatherless…where my hope was eventually suffocated by the crushing inevitability of statistics and “Every three seconds…”

So I sped toward the reddening Oregon hills, my prayers lashing out like mindless lightning – striking broken systems, human sin, my own weakness, and God with abandon.

I turned on some music to drown out the fury, and burst into tears.

But nothing could halt the implosion and I became more manic with each turn, the blushing serenity of the mountain fields amplifying the dissonance within me. I needed rain, I needed nightfall, I needed chaos.

The warm breeze whipped around me as I took each corner, repeating over and over and over in a frenzy

Why do beautiful things have to suffer?

and

Why do beautiful things have to suffer?

and

How dare you let beautiful things suffer!

And with a last crank of the wheel I found myself in a midsummer snowfield.

I slammed on the brakes, leaned out my window, and released a low, inhuman moan.

Scrambling out of the car as quickly as possible I rushed toward the animal that served as the quivering point of a fifteen-foot exclamation mark written in lace. Laying on the darkening asphalt, surrounded by a pinion snowfall, was a white peacock.

Oh God no, no no no no, please no!

I tried to get closer but it immediately grew agitated, swiveling its head around and emitting a hoarse, rattling cry. I froze, just staring at it, trying to assess the damage the unwitnessed collision had caused.

There was blood, the albino-red of its eyes spilling haphazardly onto its face, and I realized it couldn’t see.

Not one more thing!

With trembling hands I tried to pick it up and move it out of danger, but the moment I touched its wing it panicked and stumbled onto its feet and let loose a series of horrible gasps. It limped noticeably.

“Stop moving, damn you, stop moving stop moving stop moving!” I screamed, unsure what to do as it tripped at the edge of the road and fell into the shallow, grassy ditch, once again screeching in confusion and pain.

The next thirty minutes passed in a blur. I called my parents who lived right nearby; they knew the peacock’s owners; the owners arrived and wrapped up the struggling animal; their red Land Rover disappeared around the forested bend; I picked up three shimmering tail-feathers; the sun finally collapsed into the bruising horizon; and I was suddenly sitting on the edge of my bed, trying to figure out if I was supposed to think any of it meant anything.

I just sat there, the news that the peacock would fully recover barely registering, running all the possible spiritual interpretations past my inner skeptic. I craved significance, and he was unimpressed – though really, what are the odds that the album I was crying to when I came upon the wounded creature displayed a white peacock on its cover?* – so despite the massive effort my head fell onto the pillow with the magicless explanation that some reckless driver hit a rare, domesticated bird, that I soon-after arrived on the scene, that the stupid bird decided it would rather blindly throw itself into a ditch than let me cradle it and weep into its plumage and revel in the tragic beauty of it all, that it was apparently far healthier than it seemed, that once its owners showed up I had nothing else to do except drive home, and that one of the tail-feathers I took was apparently off-white and ugly.

The world doesn’t owe you something profound, you know.

I know.

You’re not some great savior, you know.

I know.

You’re actually laughably finite, you know.

I know.

So stop trying so hard.

Whatever.

I mumbled a laughably finite prayer and for the first time in a few weeks fell asleep quickly.

_________________________________________

By Dina Dargo

By Dina Dargo

_________________________________________

* This one.

Share Button