On Sad Stories and Happy Endings

Ernest Hemingway supposedly wrote the shortest sad story ever, clocking in at six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

He didn’t; but, authorship aside, the conceit is effective.

Walking through the cemetery near campus the other day, I came across a headstone that bests the faux-Hemingway for concision:

Walk through any cemetery, and you will find such things: markers of now anonymous and forgotten tragedies–visceral and galling at the time, no doubt, but now just vague phantoms where one is thankful if the groundskeeper at least keeps the weeds down. This poor child did not, it appears, tarry long enough to get a name.

Even if so many of those whose flames burned out so quickly have been forgotten now, it does not want great imagination to immediately bring the scene to the mind’s eye: the shock; the weeping; the helplessness; the agony; the resignation.

One is reminded of C.S. Lewis’s question in A Grief Observed as he grapples uselessly with trying to make sense of grief and pain: “Aren’t all these notes the senseless writhings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?”

Man’s reflections are vain, his explanations trifling. And without constant attention, the grass will grow over the grave, and it will disappear. Memory will fail. Time will continue its relentless march onward, and no one will remember who Baby was.

No man, at any rate. In such a state of affairs, perhaps all one can do is to recall what is said of God and the children of Israel in Exodus 2:24-25: “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel–and God knew.”[1]

In the memory of God is preserved all of the misery and distress of his people, every forgotten child, every unwept man and woman. If they are kept nowhere else, they are kept in the treasury of God’s storehouse, so that in due time he can have compassion on them; so that, though they die, yet shall they live; so that he can remember them into life once more.


1 The quotation is from the ESV.


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