As we near the end of the school year and Snowman prepares to say farewell to Hippy Dippy High School, there have been disappointments. Perhaps these losses are a necessary part of separating from one community and moving on to another. I know we felt this way about Large Church, that in the final year of my time in seminary, several things happened in the life of that church that made it easier in the end for the children and me to leave that church family without looking back. In the moment of each disappointment, there was a sense of anger or grief, but later just a philosophical realization that detachment from a place that had been part of us for so many years inevitably contained a measure of division and disillusionment. Those feelings prepared us to walk our new road, knowing no church would be ideal or perfect, that each would be flawed in its own particular and unique way.

The first disappointment involved a tree planted in the church garden. When I lost the baby in 1992, we had no money for a cemetery burial. My mother and father might have helped make that possible, but my mother felt relieved that we would not be having an impaired child and encouraged me to put the whole thing behind me as quickly as possible. She later regretted that, but at the time, it made me afraid to go to my father. The pastor of our church, bless him, suggested we plant a tree and simply put the baby’s ashes in the ground first. He held a private memorial service for us there in the garden, and we planted a Kousa Dogwood tree. Although it would bear no resemblance to the dogwoods of my girlhood in Virginia, something about the name and the fact it would flower felt comforting to me.

Disappointingly, it didn’t flower, and years went by, and it still didn’t flower.

Finally, in its tenth summer, it did. But at the same time, someone decided it had grown too tall and was blocking the window of the church cloister, and chopped it in half.

I wish I were kidding about this. The top of the tree was lopped off.

I inquired about how it happened and got no satisfactory answer. How could there be one?
Later that summer, I drove into the church parking lot and glanced into the garden, looking for the tree. It was August, the anniversary of the baby’s due date, and I had a few minutes to go and sit by the tree before I needed to be at a meeting.

To my horror, I did not see it.

I parked the car and went into the garden. The tree was entirely gone.

I want to tell you that I was angry and horrified and shocked and wounded, and all those words are true, but none of them suffices to describe the way I felt on that hot Tuesday afternoon.

Eventually the whole story came to me. The church had a drainage problem. Water was getting into the basement. Everything planted along that wall had to go. Three different people passed around the blame for not telling me in advance. This made it worse. They had not forgotten the tree was special. They just didn’t care enough to do the hard work of telling me it had to be removed for the sake of the building.

My son is feeling the same sort of emotions as he leaves his school. The grade he received for a reflection piece on his development as a musician this year was low, although his father, who saw the presentation, tells me it was quite good. It hurts right now, I know it must. The three teachers who gave him a grade, are they thinking of him or of the institution? They are making it easier for him to leave, ultimately, but right now it hurts. It hurts.

The church found the money to plant another dogwood, near the original, in a "better" position. I managed to speak, graciously, at the garden re-dedication the following spring. No one apologized for disrupting the place where my baby’s ashes were buried, although they did say they were sorry my feelings were hurt. Of course the second tree means nothing to me. I no longer connect with that space. Perhaps the passage of time, fifteen years, is part of that, and is evidence of healing.  More than once I have told a seminarian that frustrations with his or her sponsoring church are a good preparation for moving on to what is next on life’s journey without being *too* hung up on what was special in the past.

I hope Snowman will find that place, and that I will stop feeling angry about a bad grade (relatively speaking) that will be on his transcript when he applies to college someday. How they could hear him play and talk about his music without understanding and appreciating is beyond me. But this is one of the stories of his time at that school, and the primary reason we are making it possible for him to go away, despite the fact that he will be so much missed at home.

24 thoughts on “Disappointment”

  1. ouch for you and for Snowman. Hattie Gandhi had a similar experience when she left High School – the English department in her case. I hope that Snowman’s shining talent is so clear that he believes in himself despite this – it wasn’t an easy thing for HG to overcome, though I think she’s sorted it now.
    Hugs xx

  2. Thanks for your reflections on these transitions. I really identify with your observation that “detachment from a place that had been part of us for so many years inevitably contained a measure of division and disillusionment”. Well put, as always.

  3. I am angry on your and Snowman’s behalf. And rightly so. But your words also helped in my moving on process. Where to, I still don’t know – but like the Israelites had to stop looking back to Egypt, more and more I know it’s time to let go, let God and move on.
    Bless you. May God continue to heal the wounds of losing that precious baby

  4. Oh, hugs to you, Songbird. When I lost a child in 2002, my mother-in-law reacted very similarly to the way your mother reacted, which broke my heart. But after much work and many years, she and I have healed that wound.
    And sympathies to Snowman. My daughter did not get proper recognition for her talents either in her senior year, and we never found out why. But she is a wonderful young woman now whose big heart shines out to warm everyone.

  5. Yuk! sorry. As QG said, reflection is “well put, as always.” Healing blessings to you and Snowman.

  6. Songbird–thank you for your visit to my spot, thank you for this piece. Thank you for your friendship. Blessings be with you tonight.

  7. Songbird, I am so sorry that you and Snowman have been hurt and disappointed in this way. May you and he both find the healing that you seek. ()

  8. Both stories, your and Snowman’s, are powerful reminders of how important it is for us to try to see the world through the eyes of others and appreciate what they have to share even when our understanding is limited.

  9. ((((((Songbird)))))) I could just feel your pain in your words. There are no simple words to make it all better. Who knows why those silly people did not choose to see how talented Snowman is, but we know that those words will not define him and his bright future ahead.

  10. Aw, poor snowman. Poor you, too, and good for you for making those connections.
    A kid in my high school got admitted to a private arts boarding school in upper michigan–he was a phenomenal violinist. And the orchestra teacher was extremely distraught over this. And lo and behold—he lost first chair. Musicians are funny animals.

  11. A lovely reflection on very painful times in both your and Snowman’s lives … loss is hard, doubly so when not properly acknowledged by those who one would hope would know better. It is a testament to your writing skill that this piece immediately made me remember all the ways that such disappointments have eased my own way during times of transition.
    Thanks for posting this.

  12. So sorry, for you and for Snowman. I do like the idea that these kinds of “detachment” events keep us from going back to Egypt. But, like jo(e), I had a hard time reading the part about the tree. I was so hurt for you.

  13. Mom, I’m going to need a couple e-mail addresses so I can start writing indignant and condemning things to a certain set of teachers, alright?
    I’m only about 35% kidding, here.

  14. #1 Son – You write the teachers and I’ll get the church folks. How can people be so hurtful?
    (I’m only about 35% kidding,too.)

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