It's after dinner that I catch the replays on the news: footage of a tropical storm hitting hard in Haiti. Rain sheeting across a little, lithe Haitian boy running the wide-eyed and terrified, desperate for refuge from a storm bearing down.
In the news clip, the shirtless kid grabs a bucket at the corner of a rusting tin shanty and runs with that empty bucket over his head. Carries that empty bucket like a roof.
And I stand up, stand up like I'm struck, a bell rung. And a note flashes up on my phone. A note from Elizabeth, my friend who is waging a flat-out war on cancer.
I'd given Elizabeth a red bucket of brownies the week before. I had given her brownies and a basket of food for a pasta feast – bread, cheese, sauces, pasta and spices, and grapes spilling the platter, because when you're killing yourself in a full-scale onslaught against stage 4 carcinoma with five kids at home, one with leg braces and a wheelchair and oxygen tanks and the youngest with Down syndrome, maybe someone needs to show up and give you dinner.
“You know what I need to do? I need to send you a picture tomorrow with the George and his bucket.” I read Elizabeth's message slow. “You know the brownies you gave us? They came in a red bucket. Which is now George's red bucket.”
Why does it sometimes feel like everything in the universe is colliding in some kind of supernova of serendipity?
“I've got to tell you, George absolutely loves how that bucket has a lid and handle, and he carries everything he finds in it – and then dumps it out.” George is five. It's her little George with Down syndrome who Elizabeth worries won't remember her.
“I am thinking that over all,” Elizabeth's words unfurl across the screen, “the joy of the bucket and watching George carry it around, filled with whatever he finds, then dumping it out? That's even better than the brownies. And you better believe all seven of us loved the brownies.”
I nod, all of her words turning liquid and blurring. I'd given it forward, decided to #BeTheGift, and I can see Elizabeth smiling, her bald head gleaming, and George with his red bucket, like a celestial eruption in her darkness, gathering up just whatever he finds – and finding exactly that more than good enough. And then going around pouring that ordinary glory out. And all I can think, what everything in the universe seems to be saying, is what I text back to her: “So it looks like – the bucket is more meaningful emptier than full.”
“That,” she types back. “That's the whole point. Who needs a bucket list? Empty, poured-out buckets are actually the fullest buckets.”
Does she know how I've just sat in a waiting room and read this article that's burned me up more than a bit? Does she know my heart is slamming up against these thin walls and drowning in this strange painful joy?
She's not finished. “You know what? I am not going to die until I have given away everything in my bucket. All the love, all the graces, all the secret happiness stories. Hear me? My bucket is going to be EMPTY.”
The meaning of being is givenness. Ask Christ.
The phone buzzes with Elizabeth's last words that fall like a blessing with the given sky: “Rain down, rain down...”
Ann Voskamp joins Rebekah Lyons and Sheila Walsh this Wednesday on LIFE TODAY. This is an excerpt from The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp. Copyright ©2016 by Ann Voskamp. Published by Zondervan. Used by permission.