(Posted on Sept. 2016)
In the thick of recent summer crazies, while schlepping kids around in my clunky, dilapidated Suburban Chevrolet with no working air-conditioner like a New York City Uber in broiling flannels, I fantasized a rap parody. It featured me busting a move in yoga pants out in the cul-de-sac, buzzed on espresso and cocoa nibs, after the kids left for school.
But, when school did finally start the day after Labor day, I didn’t feel much like busting a move.
The heavy, new developments in the long-ago abduction and murder of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, a tragic story that’s been woven into the fabric of Minnesotans for 27 years, which I wrote about here last year, have dominated my thoughts.
Like sticky, black asphalt, the recent reports of the found remains, of the killer’s confession in open court, of his cold, horrid account of what happened that night—including Jacob asking “what did I do wrong” just before he was sexually assaulted, shot in the back of the head, and buried in a hole—seeped into the cracks and crevices of my brain and my heart.
I’m a woman of faith. I don’t wear it on my sleeve, and I don’t articulate it well. But the belief in a sovereign God of pure love and goodness has been at the nucleus of every choice I’ve made, every thought I’ve had, good or bad, since a little girl.
There have been times I’ve turned toward. And there have been times I’ve turned away. And there’s nothing that electrifies the magnetic fields attempting to pull me away than the staggering mystery of why bad things happen to good people. Especially when it’s an innocent child.
But then I read this statement from Jacob’s mother, Patty Wetterling:
“Everyone wants to know what they can do to help us.
Say a prayer.
Light a candle.
Be with friends.
Play with your children.
Eat ice cream.
Help your neighbor.
That is what will bring me comfort today.”
And then I see her warm, brave, exhausted face on the television screen saying this: “Jacob has taught us all how to live, how to love, how to be fair, how to be kind. His legacy will go on.”
And like a gentle ointment, her courageous, tear-stained words come to the forefront, dissolving the drying asphalt in my thoughts, my heart, my faith, replacing it with light and hope.
In Minnesota we are witnessing, right now, that even in the darkest darkness, at the deepest level, there is a force of goodness in this world that will always prevail.
It’s a force of goodness so magnetic that, although it does not fill the bottomless hole in a mother’s heart or explain the mystery when bad things happen to good people, it fortifies and multiplies, bringing strangers and neighbors and schools and sports teams together to heal and carry out a legacy of love and kindness.
A legacy gifted to us by an angel taken too soon, pouring out from the graciousness of a grieving mother.
Jacob’s spirit, the image of his smile while wearing that infamous yellow knit sweater as bright as the sun, and his family’s stunningly selfless response to unimaginable despair, will forever be a part of us.
I’m Julie Jo Severson, mom to two teens and a tween, freelance writer, editor, and co-author of HERE IN THE MIDDLE: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in Between.
This blog, Carvings on a Desk, is where I reconnect with my own voice swirling around in the middle.
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