Monday, August 18, 2008

Chapter 1 Into the Tunnel, Part 1: Eclipse

On a picture perfect Thursday morning one April, all of our lives were changed forever.

April 18, 2002 dawned bright and clear. It was the ideal spring day.

The merest hint of a breeze played with your hair. You couldn’t ask for a more pleasant temperature. The sky was that rare sapphire blue you only see in early spring: just blue, no hint of red or green hues.

The animals in the newly greened pasture lined up at the gate, ready for the day’s routine.

Life was beautiful and full of promise.

Our oldest son, Arif, awaited graduation from Crowder College in the next few weeks. In fact, the next day he was scheduled to test out of the psychology class he lacked for humanities credit.

Shortly after graduation, we planned to celebrate Arif’s nineteenth birthday.

The local community college was a great experience for him. He made numerous friends, as he easily did throughout his life. Among them numbered not only students, but faculty as well.

Arif never met a stranger. Everyone who met him felt the warmth of his care and concern for them. He touched many lives. Each was enhanced by his influence. His fondest desire was to make a difference in the world. To all observing, it looked like he was on target with his aspirations.

Growing up, Arif always held a broad fascination with science. He was captivated with how things work. From the time he was three, we rarely missed science shows on Public Television. Since we home school, we spent considerable time, beyond the three R’s, on the wonders of God’s creation. Some project or experiment in progress often occupied considerable space in the house.

He took an avid interest of Mom’s use of natural healing. He offered suggestions of his own remedies if a situation presented itself.

When Pop brought a computer project home, Arif showed up. He liked to be right in the middle of things, asking questions and helping out where he could.

As a teen, he took over many a project. He finished it’s construction, installed software, delivered it, and provided training to the owners. People were pleased with the work he did and how clear and personal he made his training.

In high school, he began building small robots and looking into alternative energy. At Crowder, he considered getting involved with the solar power project.

The English department became the source of his favorite classes as his time at Crowder advanced. After years and years of responding "Do I have to?" whenever he was given a writing assignment, he found that, after all, he really loved writing. Transforming words and ideas into compositions delighted him.

Arif reveled in giving creative presentations in his speech classes. Many times he dressed up for them or brought ingenious visual aids. His professors enjoyed his work and looked forward to what he handed in. They proclaimed that he wrote much as he spoke, using clever puns and turning phrases in delicious ways.

As he looked at career choices, he was torn: Should he go into a technical area of engineering? Would it be more satisfying to dedicate his life to this newly-found love of writing?

Always the diplomat and master of compromise, he decided the best choice would be to combine them. He planned to double major in Engineering and English Perhaps he could teach at the college level. Imagine training engineers to speak and write – to communicate in English!

He found balance for his intellectual pursuits in activity. Athletics gave expression to his competitive spirit, especially on an individual level. He enjoyed a weight training class at Crowder, finding that years of work on the farm left him quite physically fit.

A few short months ago, he took up the age-old sport of fencing with the encouragement of a long time family friend, Chris. Arif’s instructors and Chris were pleased with his progress and skill.

In a week and a half, Arif was slated for his first fencing tournament. He looked forward to it with growing excitement. He knew he was up against many seasoned fencers and welcomed the chance to learn from them, even if it meant his defeat in some contests. Arif did not fear losing. He found, in his years of chess playing, that he often learned a great deal from observing the tactics of his superiors.

Next year held new adventures. He looked forward to moving on, with a full scholarship for the University of Missouri at Rolla. The university is one of the top engineering schools in the country. Home schoolers often took on mentoring roles with other students on campus. The administration was delighted to have another potential leader on campus.

The English department welcomed him with open arms. The chair, an expert in Shakespear, was impressed with Arif’s depth of knowledge of the Bard.

Today, however, there was more pressing business. He had a research paper due in his English Composition class. He chose to write on 'The Craft of Writing.' He particularly wanted to do a good job, to make the piece an example of its subject.

Excited about the topic, Airf discussed his finished project with his father the night before it was due. In the discussion they came up with a few ideas and some clever puns, so he undertook to put them into the paper.

As is often the case, when you fix something in one place, it looks broken somewhere else. So, Arif fiddled with the paper.

Next thing he knew, the sun was up and it was time to go to school to deliver his masterpiece. Maybe he was a little tired, but he was young and he could handle it....

Micah and Steven, the middle children, emerged with fishing gear as Arif prepared to head out. They decided it would be a good day to go fishing at Indian Creek, bordering our property on the east. Arif, wishing them good angling, prepared to head out the front door for school.

I bid him a fond farewell.

So we each headed out in different directions. As I went out the back door to milk our goats, I noticed that he posted a quote form Hilaire Belloc on the fridge:

The goats were in good form. They willingly hopped up on the milking stand and munched contentedly while I milked. I sang and prayed my way through the morning chores. Plenty of milk flowed easily into my pail. I couldn’t wait to check on the babies and bring them back to their mothers.

While I was milking, I suddenly noticed a large black shadow in the lower right corner of my visual field. Blinking made no difference. I wiped my right eye with the back of my hand and then with a fresh soapy wash cloth. Nothing I did would get it to go away.

I have been warned from the time I was twelve to watch for signs of retinal detachment – dark spots are one of the signs. This meant a call to the eye doctor later. Then again, it wasn’t like the symptoms I was directed to look for. It was more like a shadow, I could still see through it.

Sometimes, I have trouble getting down to prayer when I am called to it.

Nonetheless, after letting the baby goats into the pasture with the rest of the herd, I came in from the barn filled with the beauty of the season.

My husband, Joe, found some difficulty enjoying the beauty of the day. The world had turned so watery and foggy that it was hard to see clearly enough to drive.

In Goodman, a police officer talked with Joe about what they knew. He offered to escort Joe to Joplin. Joe thanked him, but turned him down.

On his way, he stopped in Neosho to find the nearest pay phone and called home.

David, our youngest, woke up as I came in. I fixed him some breakfast. Then I filtered the milk and put it away. As I wondered how the fishing was going, the phone rang....

"Good morning." I sang.

"It's not a good morning!" came the reply. "Arif was in a car accident.... I just saw the car.... I can’t imagine how anything alive ... could have come out of it. I am headed for ... St. John’s hospital ... to find out what the story is.... Have Honnah ... bring you to Joplin.... I will meet you there."

I hung up the phone.

Suddenly, It made no difference that the warm sun was shining brightly in the living room windows. Everything went dark. I went numb.

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