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April 21, 2014 / Jon Ericson

Eyes on Zion

Today was a better day. For one thing, I started rereading A Grief Observed, which reminded me that every mourning is as individual as every relationship. Somehow, that helps for the present, though I see danger in the future. For another, it helps to sing familiar words with caring friends who know that comfort often consists in a hug. And I had something productive to do: write Bob’s obituary.

I found it to be a lot like writing a Christmas letter: hit the high points and keep it short. My wife and parents edited mostly by expanding on points I tersely outlined. One aspect my wife added was that he enjoyed many family road trips, a caravan to Zion National Park. It seems a shame to not tell about that summer while I recall it.

The Narrows, Zion NP August 2011 with Robert Ericson.

The Narrows, Zion NP August 2011 with Robert Ericson.

My parents and Bob drove their Tahoe from Virginia to Idaho via Minnesota. I don’t know if they stopped at Mt. Rushmore, but the odds are good they did—it was a tradition. Meanwhile, Joy, Joshua, and I took our Tahoe from Burbank to San Francisco to Crater Lake to meet at the family cabin in McCall. We did the usual things: boating, fishing, reading, cooking on the beach, playing games until late, and so on.

The highlight was an overnight backpacking trip to a Upper Hazard Lake high in the Rockies. It’s a short hike, but it wasn’t easy for my son or mom. Even so, we had great fishing and enjoyed a comfortable camp at the lake’s drainage. In the morning, we had fish, hash browns, oatmeal, and coffee cooked on the campfire. Bob carried some extra weight for those who couldn’t and proved an expert outdoorsman.

One of my Tahoe’s tires got punctured on the way down the mountain. Thankfully, we had a full-sized spare to get us to Boise, but my dad wanted to drive with us to make sure we didn’t get stuck somewhere. We stopped and had a picnic somewhere along the Payette River. Joshua by this time had come to adore Bob, who was extremely patient with him. (This never changed by the way; Bob loved my son.) I recall doing a lot of car swapping so that they could spend time together.

As we left Idaho, we could not bear to part ways, so we caravaned to Salt Lake City. Along the way, I looked into my rearview mirror and wondered if Bob was having car trouble; he was slowing down. Meanwhile, in his Tahoe, they wondered if there was some emergency, since we seemed in a real hurry. When we compared notes at the Lake Bonneville rest area, the answer became clear: my speedometer was broken.

In the morning, we had Liege-style Belgian waffles at Bruges. Again, we didn’t want to split up quite yet, so we decided to travel together to Zion National Park. Zion Canyon was formed by the Virgin river cutting away sandstone in dramatic narrow cliffs. During the day, all six of us hiked toward the top of the canyon on a path that followed the river. When the path ends, most people enjoy the cool water on hot summer days. But the adventurous may continue though a section called The Narrows. It is so narrow, in fact, that travelers must hike in the river itself.

My parents opted to stay with Joshua playing on the sandbar. But Joy, Bob, and I pressed on. Fighting upstream as the Virgin River flows stronger between steep cliffs is strenuous. It’s important to have a pole or staff to steady yourself and maintain balance. Many people turn back after a bend or two. But we persisted. Bob was strong and determined. In the end, he outlasted us and went a little bit further as we rested. Finally we turned back and learned that keeping balance was just as strenuous going downstream as up. Bob was not phased.

And yet, his body failed him in the end. Life is fragile and all bodies break down one way or another. Today, I looked toward the one hope we can lean on: that Jesus really did lead the way toward Zion where we will have new, resurrection bodies.

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