On this Valentine’s Day weekend, I thought it might be appropriate to share a love story, one that takes us into the deepest dimensions of love. The 1990 spring thaw in the Sierra National Forest revealed a profound tragedy. On March 1, 1990, Jean and Ken Chaney, while attempting to negotiate a little-used road in those parklands, skidded off into a huge snowbank. With a blizzard swirling around them, the 68-year-old woman and 75-year-old man decided to sit tight. As they waited for help to arrive, the couple began to keep a diary of their actions. Writing by the fading glimmer of their glove compartment light, the Chaneys slowly began to see the fatal truth of their situation – “We began to realize that we were on a road that isn’t maintained during the winter. Truly a miracle if anyone comes by… We have no idea what lies ahead… so here we are completely and utterly in God’s hand!! What better place to be!!”
During the next week the Chaneys ate Rolaids, a stick of gum, and two of those restaurant packets of jelly. They scraped frost off their car windows for drinking water. But the Chaneys endured those days by singing hymns together, quoting all the Bible verses they could recall and praying. Still no one came. On March 18, Jean Chaney made the following entry in their diary: “Dad went to the Lord at 7:30 PM this evening… It was so peaceful I didn’t even know he left. The last thing I heard him say was ‘Thank the Lord.’ I think I’ll be with him soon… I can’t see. Bye. I love you.”
The Chaneys’ bodies were not found until May 1, when the spring thaw had finally progressed enough that a forest ranger could make it down the road they had been trapped on for so long. Although the loss of their lives was a human tragedy, the Chaneys did not die alone or in despair. Huddling together in their car, they celebrated their love for God and for one another with every fiber of their beings, every shred of their strength. They were not complacent about death, but were confident in their faith, hopeful for God’s presence and secure in the knowledge that they were surrounded by God’s love.
What is the highest, most exalted act of intelligent life? It is to love. Love seeks no cause, no end, no reward beyond itself. “I love because I love; I love that I may love, “
St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote. That’s the love the Chaneys shared with one another and, through the witness of their last days, shared with us as well.
Your friend and fellow minister, Rev. Steve Savides