Spared not Blessed

In the West we have forgotten how the world devours children because mostly when our children die they are defined as subhuman by the law, and so we don’t count their lives when we stop their hearts from beating.

We have escaped an age when half the children born to us die before adulthood, and so we need not live—most of us—with the daily presence of death, prowling as it does like a wolf in tall grass.

When death comes for our children it is an anomaly, and our suffering, no matter how closely those who love us draw near, must be borne largely alone. Our friends grieve for us and in a sense with us, but most of them can’t know, thank God, what it is to grieve as us.

Until, that is, some hell-riddled boy brings guns to a school and blows holes through children whose coffins will be no bigger than your luggage. Until some cult-minded psychopath detonates a bomb that rips off their arms and legs just as easily as you’d shuck corn. Until what surely must feel like the hand of a vengeful God crushes them where they huddle screaming in grade school hallways. [Read more...]

A Corporal Work of Mercy

I was nearly two weeks late, so I already knew the answer, but I took the test anyway, in the bathroom of my dad’s house in Louisiana. We’d driven down from Virginia, two solid days in the car with our children, ages seven and two.  My sister drove her two days from Kansas.

The long drive isn’t the only reason our reunions have become increasingly rare. Since I left more than ten years ago, I don’t go home often. Except in dreams.

It was New Year’s Day. Standing there in the dim light, staring at the positive result on the test stick, hearing the competing voices of my sister and children in the next room, I felt as if this might be just another garbled midnight transmission, a dream of that first positive test, eight years ago now, in the bathroom of our first house in South Bend.

The kind of dream in which nothing is as it should be. [Read more...]

The Marrow of Prayer

Early this year, Spanish researchers published a peer-reviewed paper considering the evidence of social learning in Middle Pleistocene hominids as indicated by patterns of butchery.

In the study, part of the Bolomer excavation under the auspices of the Prehistory Museum of Valencia, researchers examined bones to find that breakages during butchering to extract marrow occurred at unlikely places, indicating a specific intention, knowledge and practices transmitted through the generations from parent to child, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I tuck in my three-year-old at bedtime under a mural I painted for him of mountains and trees and animals from his favorite storybooks: Owl Babies, Curious George. I turn the lights off, and brighten the dimmer three clicks, just enough to see. Aslan—the lion from the Narnia books I can’t wait to read to Sam when he’s a couple of years older—emerges from the dark with a slightly punk-rock mane on the wall just above my son’s pillow. [Read more...]

The Eucharist: Eat, Eat!

Good Letters welcomes Shannon Huffman Polson to our blogging team. Her memoir North of Hope: A Daughter’s Arctic Journey was released last week.

We sit in the back pew at church with intention; there’s an easy exit if our two-year-old’s patience has run out, or if ours has. Bible stories shine down on us hopefully from brightly colored stained glass windows on either side of the church.

Earlier I made spelt French toast for breakfast and my son ate three pieces, but halfway through the service he’s hungry again. He’s played with the hymnals, and retrieved every stuffed animal from the basket at the rear of the church. We work on silent diversions when he tries to use the visitor card pen on the pews themselves. [Read more...]

We Are Not Forsaken

My daughter’s teeth were clenched from the brain tumor and so I would hold her for hours and dribble protein drink through their crevices with a thin-rimmed yellow sippy cup. Most would spill out, but some went in, and so this is how we stretched out her life.

To what end I am unsure, beyond suffering. When it is your child you have no choice, you can no more let her die than cut your own throat.

Sometimes when I fed her I raged silently at God for twisting a three-year-old into this vessel of pain. Other times I prayed for him to heal her. “Let this cup pass,” I would pray, lifting that thin yellow receptacle with the tooth-grazed rim to her lips.

In the afternoons my wife took over, and I sat in our living room and tried to eat. Mostly I looked out our window at the blazing Kansas summer. I watched people pass on bicycles, watched them drive past with music playing. Sometimes through an open car window I heard them laughing. [Read more...]