Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Chasin' Dreams

Breathe in, breathe out, it brings me closer
It's okay, it's alright, it happens every night
I've been chasing dreams all my life
Now life is but a dream.
-Chasing Dreams, Magnet         

Chase Donovan C-Q
December 20, 1989 - January 5, 2010

(left, Chase at 12 yrs, with a 15+ halibut;  right, Chase at 19)

I had not kept in touch with this family, but on my FB page this morning was a message from my former boss, telling me that Chase had passed away yesterday.  Nothing I say here will help, nothing will ease his mother's heartbreak.  But as I watch the snow falling, hundreds of miles away, I find myself hoping that the threshold was bright, and smooth, and that there's lots of fishing on the other side.  Peace be with you.


written August, 2005 

For five years I had the privilege of working with an amazing group of people in Laguna Beach. These people were smart, funny, insecure, beautiful, silly, and made life for me both unbearable and tolerable. They were also all between the ages of 12 and 18. I served as Director of Youth and Family Ministries, which is really just a fancy title for a youth minister who does some other stuff, too.

My job was not only to connect with the "regulars" - the ones who came every week, who participated in every car wash - but to account for the ones we hardly ever saw. These "occasionals" were some of them busy, some of them cynical, some of them both, but they were all dear to me. Whether by trips to Starbucks or visits to sports practices, I kept fairly close watch on almost all of them.

One of my occasionals was a boy named Chase. When he was 12 years old, he was diagnosed with a rare form of soft tissue cancer. Although neither his mother nor his grandmother would ever admit defeat by saying the words out loud, it was not likely that he would survive. The community rallied 'round him, but all the love and good cheer could not help this energetic baseball player from becoming pale, thin and weak.

I tried to visit as often as I could, but Chase had never been much of a talker, least of all to me. Mostly, we'd watch movies. Chase sprawled on the sofa, I'd curl up on the floor with their huge chocolate-colored dog, and Chase's mom would run errands or shuttle around one of her three other sons. He visited the Mayo clinic, worked with the best doctors. We all gave blood at the Children's Hospital, and took meals when we could. There would be up days and down days. But I, novice that I was to anything resembling pain and suffering, could finally take it no longer. I could not pretend that everything was fine, that this was a cold virus just passing through.

Seminary had not prepared me very well for this moment. I had studied the New Testament in Greek, the history of the various Councils, the effect postmodern thought was having on the church. I'd had pastoral counseling with women, but there was no course on the death of children.

In addition, I considered myself a Universalist. I don't believe in hell. But I found, as I searched my soul and the things I'd been taught, I didn't quite believe in heaven, either. The more conservative idea that this life is easily discarded, that it has no meaning because the afterlife is what matters, held no promise for me. It sounded too much like a line fed to soothe the masses. I read and read, thought and thought, prayed and prayed, and continued to come up bereft.

Although I hated to admit my theological ignorance, I had to ask for help. My boss and the minister of that church was an incredible woman I hold in highest regard. She was sitting behind her desk on a typical, sunshine-filled California day. I asked her bluntly, "What happens when we die?"

She grinned wryly at me. "So how's Chase?" I started crying and admitted how scared I was for him.

"The way I've had it explained," she said, "is that our life cycles are made up of thresholds. We enter through a threshold, and leave through one. I don't know where we go, or where we come from. But when babies are born, they are trusting, and loving, and innocent. They have come from a place where they learned to be trusting, and loving, and innocent. There's no reason to believe we don't go back to that place."


Chase did successfully beat his cancer, although there's still a chance it could recur. His face has filled out, he's back in school. Life goes on. But I am less afraid and more hopeful. And when my son was born, two years later, I looked in his face and saw a beautiful place that I know I will go back to someday.


  1. Too heartbreaking. My thoughts and condolences to Chase's family. x

  2. I followed Chase's story for the past few years. He was certainly a brave young man. He dealt w/ such pain and must have known deep inside that he would not survive, but he kept fighting.

    I ask you...where exactly is "God" in all this. All the prayers, etc did nothing. What "loving creator" would put someone through this? Don't try to tell me that the prayers allowed Chase additional time, that's just ridiculous.

    God does not exist. I never commented in this manner on Kim's blog because I suppose if anyone gets a pass on belief in the invisible, it's the Mother of a terminally ill child.

    You write of "thresholds" and what might exist (fishing?) on the "other side". There is absolutely NO reason to believe that humans survive their physical death. It is only our egoism......our belief that we are "gods special creatures" that allows us to drown in this notion.

    Chase was an amazing individual. There is much to be learned from his LIFE but, his death will always remain a mystery. I hoped he grabbed every once of living in his last years. From Kim's journal, it appears that his brothers helped him do this.

  3. Dear Anonymous,

    I'm not sure what answers you want from me; I don't have any. Belief is a personal choice - if you choose to believe something different than Kim does, or than I do, that's your right. It's not my intention to proselytize. It sounds like you knew Chase pretty well. I hope you can find resolution without minimizing others' choices.

    Peace, Aerin

  4. Aerin,

    I am sending you cyber hugs and prayers for Chase and his family.

    Faith is a funny thing - it comes with the parameters of an impossibility to offer proofs. What I can say is that the more I've questioned, the more people who have blessed my life with intelligent arguments against my belief in God, the more my own faith has grown.

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  6. I know the sorrow of this tragedy all too well, all too recently. My deepest and saddest condolences to you, and to Chase's family.

  7. Oh, Aerin, I'm so terribly sorry. He lives through your words here.

    As for the other, you're asking the right questions, and it is a most human thing to have hope when the answers are wrapped in darkness.

    I hope everyone connected to Chase can find some kind of solace.

  8. ok... i can't find the link to your writing challenge for 2009 where you required 1k words per month, january to december

    last time i posted a word count i think it was more than double your request... i'd add at least several hundred more, since i posted my last on 31 december, but....

  9. I'm sorry for you loss, but thank you for sharing this moving story of strength with us.

  10. I'm really sorry to hear this, Aerin :(. I found out a few days ago that one of our editors' sons passed away tragically, and I get sad every time I think about it or pass by the editor's empty office (he's out for the week, understandably). It's always sad when a loved one dies, and especially so when it's someone young.

  11. Wow. Reading backwards, knowing Chase passed away, and then reading about him and how you knew him, was really moving. Thank you for sharing so from your heart. What happens when we die is a question my child asked me first when she was 4. We've long explained to her that she was "magic" before she was born, so it made sense to explain that while no one knows what happens when you die, I like to think we go back to being magic.
    But it hurts like hell to lose someone you love. My sympathy to Chase's family and circle of friends.



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