Looking back on it now, it was perhaps the most profound experience my family and I had ever shared. It began with a vague uneasiness in Julie which progressed to something we never saw coming. But the night before our journey began, our mood and minds were elsewhere, which is typically true the moment before life's storms begin.
Why speak of it now? What brought it to mind?
I wondered that myself this morning when I woke, and then I remembered. Tonight is the Christmas Program at school. It's always the Thursday before we let out for the holidays. For the past five years, the program has reminded me of that journey my family took six years ago, for what began as a vague uneasiness in Julie progressed to open-heart surgery three days later on this very day, Thursday, December 16, 2004. That night at the school, before the festive songs began, five hundred people paused to pray for the Kapanka's who were not there to join in the celebration.
In the days ahead (next week), I will try to post the journal entries of days that followed this Sunday post--not to relive the ordeal, but because many of you have faced your own frightening realities, and it is sometimes encouraging to see God's hand at work even when we do not know His plan.
Life is mostly prose, measured by pedantic glances in the mirror, those leaned-in looks we take at waking up or turning in at night. But thank God for the parts of life less focused on ourselves, for relationships that bring meaning and form to our daily function. Thank God that sometimes on some days, between prosaic glances in the mirror, there is just enough poetry to lift our hearts and help us see what waits beyond the glass.
Sunday, December 12, 2004: Prologue “The Winter Storm”
We’d gone together to the shore to see the breakers crash against the pier. Since our first winter here, we’d seen pictures of the red lighthouse
coated in a shroud of ice, and we’d heard the sad stories
of this pier
during high-sea storms, but we’d never seen one for ourselves.
In the far-reaching headlights of cars parked behind us, shadowy swells rose and rolled across the concrete break wall. And there at the far end, the red lighthouse was awash in arching plumes of foam. A cold mist from the spewing surf and howling wind squinted our eyes as we leaned into the gale to hold our ground.
Julie gestured back toward the car, and we turned and let a strong gust push us toward the calm and common sense of shelter. The doors slammed tight behind us, and we just sat there, in awe of the contrast between the stillness and the storm. I rubbed my gloved hands together and started the car.
“Well, we can scratch that off of our list of ‘things worth doing once.’” I joked.
“You can go back out if you want,” she replied with a quick tilt of her head. The tilt meant: she was staying put, but if I wasn’t, she would be happy to watch me blow around from the car.
“No. I’m with you,” I said. Besides… I heard a post-war crooner in the background and turned up the radio to hear “Baby, It’s Cold Outside
.” It seemed a pleasant bidding to stay warm, so I crooned the male part as best I could, and turned the car toward home. Julie smiled but didn’t sing.
As we crossed the Grand Haven Bridge, the heavy snow began.
Thirty months later, I read this post and tested the prose as "poetry" in quatrameter/enjambment :
Between the Stillness and the Storm
We’d gone together to the shore
to see the breakers crash against the pier.
In postcards, since our first year here,
we’d seen the mystic lighthouse
coated in a shroud of hoary ice.
We’d heard the stories of this site--
souls washed away in high-sea storms--
but never had we'd seen it for
ourselves 'til then, in the headlights
of the dozen cars behind us.
The shadowy swells rose and rolled
across the craggy, concrete wall
half-hidden by the falling snow.
At the far end was the lighthouse
awash in arching plumes of foam.
The cold mist from the spewing surf
stung our cheeks and squinted our eyes
as we leaned against each gust and gale
to hold our ground. Then turning back t'ward
the car, the wind dragged us by our arms
to the common sense and comfort
found inside two slamming doors
indifferent as the frosty glass
between the stillness and the storm.
I rubbed my gloved hands together
and fumbled with the ring of keys.
“Well, we can scratch that off the list
of ‘things worth doing once.’” I joked.
“You can go back out if you want,”
she said with a tilt of her head.
The tilt meant: she was staying put,
but she would be happy to watch
me blow around some more from there.
“No thanks. I’m gladly here with you,”
I smiled, turning up the radio
just in time to hear persistence
crooned, “but Baby, It’s Cold Outside
The song was a pleasant omen.
I sang along as best I could
'til the rhythm of the wipers
caught my eyes and ears
at the crest of the bridge to home.
It was then the heavy snow began.
© Copyright 2004 Tom Kapanka/ Patterns of Ink