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Ash Wednesday, 2017





The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.


            Ellen and I counted 13 muskrats as we walked around Lake Bennett that late February mild afternoon. Spring had emerged early in Minnesota and the ice had pulled away from the shore, leaving strips of water for the diving and swimming pleasure of these little critters. My wife Ellen worried that they, especially the wee ones, might freeze with the inevitable onslaught of more doses of winter, and die before their time.


He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.


A week later, on a bike ride at Playa Linda, Mexico, Ellen collapsed with a heart attack in a small, filthy bathroom. I carried her out onto the cement slab, lay her down where a nurse and the bike tour guide tried to pump life back into her.

“Come back,” I yelled.  I looked around. The gathered onlookers surrounded us. The cement floor pulsated with the heat of the day. The restaurant tables were left unused.  Quiet. The nurse took my arm.

“She’s gone, Richard.” 

“She cannot be. She promised me 25 more years.”

“She’s gone, Richard.” 

The blasting midday light. The heat. Ellen lying there and dozens watched, gawking. She is not a zoo animal, I wanted to yell. The yellow police tape. This is not the way it was supposed to end. We were supposed to grow old together.

“Go to the light, Ellen. Your Daddy will be there.” I sat with her, holding her hand, stroking her arm. I removed her wedding ring and put it on my gold chain with my cross.

 

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.


The ceiling fan spun listlessly, barely dulling the late afternoon heat. An air conditioning unit groaned ineffectively. The beige walls of the Zihuatanejo Police Station, which had not been painted in decades, were spattered with dead flies. The three white plastic chairs and two steel desks were nicked, dented, and scuffed. Danny, the young bike tour guide, relayed his version of Ellen’s death to the recorder. The grumpy police chief stomped through the room importantly. The recorder sat behind a desk dutifully, typing the deposition into a large ancient desktop computer. For four long hot hours, we took turns giving our versions of Ellen’s death. Later in the evening, the autopsy report cleared me as a suspect. Heart attack. The red mark on her forehead was from falling, which I knew, but they didn’t.


Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.


It was not Ellen at all, the person who lay, gussied up in lace and white ruffles, in the coffin at the funeral home. Ellen in white ruffles? Ya, right. I guess that’s how they dressed up bodies. It was not the real “her,” at least. I used to adore the way the morning sun shone through her reddish brown hair. Her hair was still pretty in the coffin that night. But it was not the vibrant, so-alive Ellen who had graced my life for these five years. She would be smiling, grinning, laughing. This face was plastic, filled out with some kind of chemicals. I sat with her.


“Thank you for five wonderful years.”

“Thank you for the muskrat walks, for putting up with Sunday afternoon football, and Wednesday night Criminal Minds, for chasing three a.m. meteor showers and autumn swan migrations.” 

“Thank you for those seven weeks of curiously bouncing through Western Europe, for exploring the country of Mauritius, for the late afternoon Moscow Mules and pinochle games.” 

“Sorry for not kissing you enough.” I kissed her on her cheek. And I gave her a kiss from each of her siblings and her mom, as instructed.


Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.


Death of spouse happens to others, not to me. That night, a loud party outside my hotel room spewed out awful, raucous music that only young people would appreciate. I retreated to hymns on my iPod. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” I will awake from this bad dream and it will all be okay. I whimpered. I stared and studied the ceiling.  It will never be okay again. We were just riding the bikes. She told me she loved me. I looked over to the other bed to see if she was there. Where are you? At least, she was not in pain anymore: her feet, her heart, or any part of her.


Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

           

Six cherubim appeared above me. They were pudgy, naked and small. I only recognized them, these fat little boys, because of my studies of Baroque art. They hovered above me for three or four seconds. Their figures were as clear as if they were right here, real, and present. Then they were gone.


And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever….


Dr. Richard Brynteson is a professor, executive coach, innovation consultant, author, and public speaker. He teaches in the MBA program at Concordia University, St. Paul, where he has been a professor of 32 years. He has published six books, on business subjects such as innovation and behavioral economics. He has published blogs on his travels as well as thoughts on innovation and education. He has worked with companies on innovation projects in Africa, Asia, and the United States. He has only had to bribe his way out of jail once.


Image credit: Kelly Wright via Ideogram

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