Not Quite 40 Days – excerpt 2

Book 1, chapter 1 further along

…The cold is essential to Tina’s story. It’s the heart or soul of the story – no, it’s more than that. It’s bigger than both the heart and the soul, both of which are confined to the limits of a single being. The cold exists within and beyond the narrative. It’s the active force, the deus ex machina, the blind woman spinning the wheel of fortune around and around in a whirlwind of bitter, indiscriminate accidents of weather and fate.

It’s not all by itself, the cold. Every now and then, while the wheel keeps spinning round and round, a God steps in. Lord knows why. It doesn’t make things better or worse. It never seems to stop the randomness of life and the chaotic progress of fortune, but in this story, there’s a crazy tripartite God that comes upon the hapless players at unexpected moments for enigmatic reasons. Maybe it’s some sort of divine joke. I don’t find it all that funny. I don’t know. Maybe you will.

The story begins after all of the crash survivors except Tina had arrived back at their homes, to whatever fates awaited them. There were a few, of course, who did not survive. Some of Tina’s best friends were among those who perished in the snow and ice of Eastern Ontario. It was horrible for everyone who knew them. A grief and a shock. To a certain degree, the families would never recover. The whole community mourned with them. The loss of such promising young people was like, as they would say, the best fruit plucked off the vine unripe. They’d say it like this because it wasn’t supposed to happen, because of the wastefulness of it all, and because with so many of them having family members who were farmers in the lush fruit-growing region of south-western Ontario, similes like this came to them unforced. Losing a crop was also incomprehensible but it was something they knew and had learned to accept.

The driver and one of the kids had died immediately and their families took comfort in the relative painlessness of their deaths and the spiritual solace of the belief that they had gone off to a better place. The other families had more questions than answers even as the survivors trickled home and the bodies of the others were recovered. Five survived and made their way home within a day or two but they had no meaningful insights into the fate of the other six. Within days, two of them were found and their bodies returned, the cause of death known but the circumstances of their deaths a greater mystery than before. Four of the families knew even less, only that their daughters had survived and journeyed on together. Only Tina Friesen knew what had become of them. Tina and God. And neither of them was speaking. Tina was keeping quiet because she was holed up in a shack somewhere in the north where there are neither roads nor towns anywhere close. And God was keeping quiet because, well, that’s just what God does.

You might ask why Tina was stuck there, far from her home and hopes. You’ll learn the sequence of events as the story is told but the greater, existential “why” remains unanswered. Perhaps God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost conspired up in Heaven and decided that Tina’s misery would in some unfathomable fashion serve the unfolding of His Meaning. Or, maybe random bits of misfortune intervened with Divine good fortune to leave her in that rather ambivalent state of alive but adrift. Who can explain away pain and injustice? Tina believed in God and Jesus and the healing power of the Holy Spirit just like she had been taught. In fact, she believed with all her heart, having confessed her faith before her whole congregation at her baptism just eighteen months earlier. She had a solid faith and had grappled with all the theological ifs, ands and wherefores in an effort to understand the presence of wrongfulness in the world, whether that wrongfulness be evil, incompetence or just plain misfortune. She had, until recently at least, held firmly to the belief that whatever there was that was wrong, evil or injust in the world was nonetheless there for a reason. That through our suffering and pain, God is working His Purpose out. Even more than that. She believed that her own steadfast acts of faith in the face of adversity made her an instrument of God’s Peace, a Handmaiden of the Lord. There had been times in her life when Tina had regretted there was so little adversity in her life. The God of Irony no doubt smiled at that rather self-indulgent and misplaced regret.

Tina didn’t smile, though. The humour was lost on her. She’d replaced that one regret with others of such greater magnitude as to make her regret of insularity seem trite and silly even to herself, but not really funny. Though it must be admitted that Tina’d never really been known for her sense of humour. Her God was one of kindness and gentle admonitions not one of biting wit and mocking exuberance. She liked to feel that she was a child of a huge God and that she sat in the palm of His hand, protected from all the winds of evil that buffeted her from all sides. This sense of security had been sorely tested over the last weeks. She hadn’t lost her faith completely, but she no longer felt certain of her identity as a loved and secure Handmaiden of the Lord. Nor, in fact, was she certain of the winds of evil all around…

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