/ by Janet Eckles

1,460.

That’s how many days make up four years. A lot has changed in my life, and undoubtedly in many of yours, over the past 1,460 days.

-My family moved 700 miles away. We traded corn fields and humidity for legal marijuana and the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen
-I started college and went through numerous identity crises (because what 18 year-old can actually be expected to know what they want to do with their life)
-Despite my best efforts, my heart broke for far-off people and places that I never anticipated would captivate me
-I chopped off my hair because why not
-I learned invaluable lessons about myself, and about others, that I am so thankful for
-Jesus met me in my darkest moments, and in ways that I never knew were possible
-I wrestled with deep-rooted fears and insecurities, and made it out ok
-I graduated!
-And I travelled 6,500 miles, lost my beloved noise canceling headphones, and shed half my body weight in sweat so I could finally experience the place that’s claimed my heart for years

Yes, a lot can change in 1,460 days.

And sometimes it’s easy to forget those changes as we skip reflection in order to fully live in the present moment or to speculate about the future.

But for the past 1,460 days, this day, June 21, has painfully reminded me that a lot can also change in just one day.

In one hour. One second.

One moment you’re reminiscing on your college orientation weekend that you just finished. You spent the weekend with two of your best friends getting one last campus tour, making awkward small talk with other soon-to-be freshman, and registering for classes before you start your undergrad career in two months. You’re happy that you all managed to make some new friends and are excited to think about what the next four years will have in store for the three of you.

But death happens in an instant.

And then you see the ‘Rest in Peace’ messages flooding your newsfeed, and you don’t understand because you just spent the whole weekend with her. You dropped her off at home maybe an hour ago (or was it two?), and watched her smiling face in the rearview mirror grow smaller until it disappeared. Your mom makes that phone inquiry herself because you just turned 18 and you can’t bear to make that call on the off chance that she could really be dead.

My friend was killed in a tragic accident four years ago today. In that moment my world, like every other world she touched, completely shattered. The rug, as they say, truly was ripped out from beneath my feet, violently, and I was free falling into unknown territory.

Grief is funny. It’s different for everyone, but for me, it comes and goes at first. Like waves, it suddenly crashes over me, only to subside when my mind gets distracted. I forget. But the moment I remember again, those waves are back, and with more force than before. But after that initial overwhelming period of intense bereavement, my grief transitions into a dull ache. And it lingers, forever in my heart and in the back of my mind.

As I reflect on this day from Northern Iraq, I can’t help but think about how this country has seen so much death. Death by occupation, dictators, jihadi militants. And I grieve. I grieve for my friend, but I also grieve for the Iraqi youths with bright futures cut short. I grieve for the husbands, fathers, sons, brothers who will never get to see how their Kurdistan thrives. I grieve for the beautiful people whose only crime involved belonging to a certain race or adhering to a certain religion. And I grieve with those left behind, forced to make sense of their own shattered worlds while enduring the agonizing pain of absence.

I’m not trying to equate the loss of my dear friend with the loss that this country as a whole has endured. I’m not pretending to know what it’s like to lose my entire family, neighborhood, or city. I’m saying my heart hurts from the knowledge that grief is the common experience here.

I want to see healing. Not just in my own heart, but everywhere. I want to see communities at odds reconciled, I want to see enemies lay down their arms and embrace one another in love, and I want to see an end to grief.

I’m not sure that kind of world is realistic, but making an effort to create that sort of world is worth a shot. I mean, isn’t that why we’re here?

I think it is.

And Kali, I miss you. Today, and always.

Love,
Jan

-June 21, 2015