Shadow Distortions

dead tree and shadow laredo

Where we walk Savannah at night a street light hits a metal railing so strongly that it creates bars across the sidewalk—and they look real. I find myself stopping and looking ahead to make sure the path is not blocked, even though I know the shadows are mere distortions—illusions that lie.

Funny videos show small children and dogs playing with their shadows—attempting unsuccessfully to catch them. When we were kids, we loved shadow displays on the wall. But shadows aren’t real. The shadow of a car can’t run over anyone. The shadow of a wolf can’t bite. The shadow of a snake can’t constrict. The shadow of a knife can’t cut.

When I was a child I loved “The Shadow” by Robert Louis Stevenson. I still do. I love all his poems in “A Child’s Garden of Verses.”

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,

And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.

He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;

And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

 

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—

Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;

For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,

And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

 

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,

And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.

He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;

I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

 

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,

I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;

But my lazy little shadow, like an errant sleepy-head,

Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

 

Like Robert Louis Stevenson’s shadow that stayed asleep in bed when the sun was up, shadows vanish. They are not real. They cannot hurt.

Psalm 23 in the Bible says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me.” We need not fear death for two reasons; one, God is with us, and two, death is a shadow and shadows are illusions. They are not real. They cannot hurt us.

Death is like the period at the end of a sentence. It’s a stopping point in our lives before we move on to the next sentence, the next chapter, the next page—our eternal home in Heaven where God has written our name in His Book of Life.

A shadow did hurt me once. My spooky horse jumped over a red clay bank and his shadow hit the road before he did. He threw me and ran home in a fright, leaving me to walk two miles. That horse got spooked by an illusion. We have more sense. Shadows are not real. They cannot hurt us.

The shadow of death is a reflection of the light of Heaven on the other side.

bright sun yellow

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Death, Dying and Shadows

Having just said goodbye to my 37-year-old son, U.S. Marine Corps Major Luke Gaines Parker, (Aug. 19, 1976 – Nov. 17, 2013), I feel qualified to write about death, dying and shadows. Death because a memorial service was held for Luke; shadows because they are illusions.

Luke was born hyperactive before it became a buzz word and was diagnosed with learning disabilities, all of which he overcame. When Luke wanted to learn something, he did. He learned to whitewater raft, rock climb, scuba dive, play a trumpet and piano, fly an airplane. When he wanted his own plane, he found and purchased one of 19 remaining Focke Wulfs in the world. He worked his way up from learner, to instructor, to an instrument rating. He performed aerobatic maneuvers at air shows and wrote smoke messages in the sky.

As a Marine, Luke worked his way up from enlisted to Major. He served six tours of duty in war zones – saw many of his Marine Corps buddies die – and returned home from Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which he overcame. But this isn’t about Luke – it’s about shadows.

Shadows are illusions. Shadows aren’t real. They can’t hurt you. People can make shadow animals on the wall – even sharks and wolves – but the shadow critters are harmless. They can’t bite.

Death is unpopular. It gets bad PR. People think of death as an end. It’s scary. They see death as the worst thing that can happen. Death is not the end of life; it’s the beginning of eternal life. Death is what we label the passage from this earth into Heaven where there is no more death, dying, sorrow, illness, pain or sorrow. Death stands between this restless world and eternal joy.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Today at a nursing home, I saw the worst; lonely people with no one to visit them or care; people whose bodies and minds have worn out ahead of death’s arrival. Some screamed and cried for help because imaginary fiends – real to them – bit and crawled under their clothing. Some slumped over in their chairs, lacking strength to straighten up. Some sat, head lolling, drooling, useless arms ending in claw-like appendages that had once been functional hands.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Today at a prison, I saw hopelessness in eyes once bright with wonder; human bodies held captive in cold metal cages, trapped in a dreamless land of no hope, no future.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Today I saw a drug addict with bleeding gums and pussy sores on his face sitting in the cold rain, shivering, and talking to invisible companions as he held a paper cup and begged for money for his next fix.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Today I saw an alcoholic mother in an uncontrollable spate of weeping because her young daughter had run away from home and she had sobered up enough to realize that it was her neglect and abuse that sent the young girl rushing out into a dangerous, uncertain future.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Today I saw an abused child with cigarette burns and bruises on his thin arms and face and shattered trust written across his face because the parents who should have loved and protected him had turned on him with anger and hate.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Jesus asked, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” If this life is all there is to life – then death is indeed an enemy and the worst thing that can happen.

Luke lived his 37 years to the fullest because he walked with God. Even when other people around him did, Luke never drank alcohol or used profanity. He attended church, read his Bible, and was a great father to his young daughter. Within three days of his death, I received 850 messages expressing sorrow and commending his life – because it was a life lived with God. He flew his beloved Focke Wulf through the shadow of death into the arms of Jesus.

Do I miss my son? Dreadfully. Am I incapacitated by grief? No. Death is a shadow. Shadows are harmless, powerless illusions. Death doesn’t deserve such a bum rap. There are many things in this life worse than death.

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