There are things that happen, but no one warns you about when you’re growing up Dutch.
They don't tell you that if you're growing up Dutch, at the age of five, you'll try a heavily salted black liquorice type of candy, & you'll think, "Ew" but by the time you're 10, you'll be begging your Beppe to show you the dropje jars.
They don't tell you that if you are growing up Dutch & attend a Reformed denomination in church, you'll learn patience through responsive readings.
They don't tell you that if you're growing up Dutch, you'll roll your eyes every time your mom starts playing Dutch Bingo with people - which is a game where you go through Dutch people you know until you find someone you both know (or better yet, are related to) - but by the time you see 21 & sitting at a desk, catching glimpses of Dutch last names, you’ll be doing the exact same thing.
What they really don't tell you if you're growing up Dutch is that when tragedy strikes, it strikes wide & deep & long.
In Hamilton, the city of many communities, where I grew up, there was a horrific murder in May 2013. What made it feel even more horrific was how close to home it hit. The victim, Tim Bosma, was an ordinary, Dutch guy; he went to school & church with a number of people I knew; he did heating & air work for my Opa months before his murder. There was no secret life he was living. He had done nothing wrong. He was just trying to sell a stupid truck & got killed for it.
It was May 2013, & I logged onto my Facebook to have a "Missing" poster for a man at the top of my newsfeed. I didn't think much of it - I didn’t look at who was shared it & figured it was a spam piece.
Then it kept popping up, over and over again. Then I saw it on Twitter, with the hashtag #TimBosma all over - trending nationally at some points. Then my mom called me & told me a man from Ancaster Christian Reformed Church - Tim Bosma - had gone missing. He went to sell his truck & never came home.
My mom called, explaining the whole thing - who he was, how we knew him, how my Opa knew him, explaining the Dutch roots that seemed to touch so many lives.
My Facebook feed was absolutely flooded with news - people getting together go hand out flyers to find him, people imploring their social networks to please share. On the police side, many units were deployed, & the Hamilton police force mounted one of the largest homicide investigations in their history.
Fast forward to a week & a half later, when a press conference confirmed the absolute worst fears: not only had Tim been killed, but they had such little respect for him & his family, his body was burned.
No church in the area could hold the sheer amount of supporters within their walls, so a banquet hall - filled to capacity - held the memorial service. I streamed it at work, & my sisters remember it playing in the halls of their high school.
They don't tell you that if you grow up Dutch with a little more of a liberal taste, you will actually feel yourself cringe whine Days of Elijah is played on an organ, while you are sitting down.
You will feel out of place in a university classroom where you are always the last one called on - there were normally at least three more “V” names behind you in grade school & high school, plus the W’s & Z’s. You will wait for the first two weeks of secular school for people to pray, folding your hands in preparation at the beginning of any large gathering, only to realize they are most definitely not going to pray. You will make your friends try dropjes & laugh when they compare it to swallowing the ocean.
& you will feel tragedy like Tim Bosma in your core. As you drive by his church - literally two and a half years later - you will think about how that could've been anyone you go to church with. How that could've been anyone you went to high school with. But it wasn’t: it was him, & now his family, his friends, his church has to face a world without him. A world that probably feels very hard & not so marvelous.
There's this quote from Frederick Buechner that sticks out in my head whenever I think of life being very good or very not good. It goes, "Life is hard, as well as marvellous. Hard & terrible things happen to us in this world, which call us to be brave and strong and wise, to be heroes, when it is all we can do to keep our heads above water.”
This quote has rung through my head for five months straight, while the murder trial of Tim Bosma has been taking place. Life felt more hard than marvellous, & I am having a hard time reconciling how life can be terrible & evil & downright hard, as well as marvellous. How death coincides with the beauty of new life. How there is beauty amidst awful, terrible, incredible, suffocating pain.
This quote pops into my head on days where there are mass shootings. Where a man is killed, his body then burned. When people pass away and there are no easy answers. When hate seems to always reign over love. When Jesus does not seem to be coming fast enough for my liking. When it feels like there is no respite from the really shitty things that seem to dominate the world. When love does not seem to be loud enough; when hate and fear dominate everywhere we turn our heads.
This is another thing they do not tell you about when you are growing up Dutch: what to say when life is hard and not so marvellous. And if I am being the most honest about my reactions in the face of tragedy, I want answers & not Bible verses - but most of the answers Christ has given me about facing life in the midst of tragedy are found in Bible verses, so I head back there to remind myself that Christ came to bring life and hope and love in abundant measures, to remind myself that Christ called us to love our neighbours deeply; to remind myself of finding joy amidst death and tragedy and chains.
So I’ve been trying to think of what to say when life is hard and less than marvellous, & I’ve come to this conclusion: I don’t know. Maybe there is nothing to say when life is more hard than marvellous, except exhaled prayers of, “Please Lord Jesus, come soon.” Maybe it is tossing out lifejackets of love to those who are swimming, trying to keep their head above water. Maybe it is standing in grief and pain with the community, searching for answers together like a ship searches for a lighthouse. Maybe it is standing like a lighthouse: collecting the moments of good to create a mosaic of light & hope for the world to see. Maybe when life gets extra hard, we remind people that they are brave, that they are strong, that they are wise, that they are heroes who don’t wear capes. Maybe we hug those we love a little tighter; maybe we connect our hands and pray for safety, hope, love, and peace for our beloved communities. There are a lot of things we can do when life is hard and less than marvellous, even if we don’t know what to say.
My cousin told me about this man at her church who says, "if we didn't have pain here on earth, we would never long for heaven." & maybe that's a longing that manifests itself in our hearts even more so when life is more hard than marvellous.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.