my second-worst day ever

I am pleased to report that today is the 10-year anniversary of the second-worst day of my life.

Not that worse things haven't happened to me in the intervening 10 years. Indeed, I have had plenty of worse hours, worse months, worse years than 1997. But worst days number 1 and 2 are enshrined in perpetuity as memorials to the particular trials of late adolescence (although quite arguably I am even now in late adolescence, depending on how and where you draw the lines), and, even more, as memorials to the grace that shone through in each of those circumstances. No matter what else happens in my life, by fiat no day can rank any lower than number 3 on the list. This means that the worst days of my life are ever receding further and further into the past. Oh, happy thought.

Anyway. What happened on April 4, 1997 is that some yahoo stole the entire print run of the Wheaton College Record as an ill-conceived April Fool's prank. Yes, the loss of an issue of a student newspaper is not a major catastrophe in the grand scheme of things, but I had poured my heart and soul into that issue -- even more so than usual, with a major investigative piece and a major humor piece under my byline -- and I didn't realize until it was taken away how much I had been looking forward to witnessing my fellow students' reactions. I certainly wasn't doing the work for the money, which broke down to pennies on the hour, or for personal gratification -- it was a service to my community. And if my community didn't receive it, my work felt in vain.

At first, the sense of loss was compounded by the fact that my philosophy major friends didn't get what a big deal this was. So we don't get a newspaper this week. Maybe it throws a minor kink into our routine, but you shrug it off and go on with your life. Even knowing that I was majorly involved in the production, they didn't intuit how much it meant to me personally.

This is why it was a profound comfort to get back to the newspaper office, with fellow editors, where I could weep openly and they knew exactly why. It's also why, on that day, I thought "grand larceny" were the most beautiful words in the English language -- because, when they were spoken by the police officer who took our report, they conveyed that society in general, through the definitions of the criminal justice system, validated my sense of loss.

I wrestled with my outrage and sense of violation through the day, finally praying late that evening to release the matter into God's care.

Within a half hour, the papers were returned.

The next afternoon I was in the newspaper office, cleaning up and taking care of some personal business, with a couple of colleagues who were already at work on the next edition. (That, and/or using the newspaper computers for instant messaging.) It had been overcast and trying to rain all day, when suddenly there was a cloudburst, the heavens opened, and water poured in sheets from the sky. My two friends and I quickly decided to go puddle-jumping in the storm, and stripped off our shoes and socks and raced from the building into the blinding rain. We ran down to the plaza in front of the chapel, where rain water wells into miniature lakes, and splashed gleefully, getting soaked to the bone. It was the closest Wheaton College students of that era got to dancing in the middle of campus.

The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started, and we walked back to the center of campus, limp with exhaustion and waterlog, looking like drowned rats. (Happy drowned rats.) Outside of the student center, we encountered another (dry) pair of our newspaper colleagues who had shared in the angst and frustration of the previous day's ordeal.

As the rain cleared up enough for the sun to come out, the sky took on the most spectacular cast I believe I have ever witnessed. In the western sky, the sun was setting, but it was setting against a bank of clouds that reflected the light much more than usual, so that the entire horizon glowed a brilliant orange.

In the east, the sky between the clouds was still blue, and a giant rainbow stretched across the sky.

I almost got dizzy, trying to take in both sides of the sky all at once.

The air had that unmistakable after-the-rain quality. The temperature was perfect. The world was clean and good and beautiful. It was like a gift. It was a gift.


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