In the Bleak Midwinter
When a friend dies, or a relative, that person may have gone to a better place, but we have not. We may meet, but we miss them and the missing continues. As I grow older, I realize the missing grows until my own ending. This is a bitter truth of life.
This cannot be softened.
I am directing a play for a brilliant group of actors at The College and I miss my Aunt Karen. When my brother and I were little boys, she would have us over and with our cousins do amateur theatricals. I discovered later we were the end of a long tradition of home-made plays that reached a high point in Victorian middle class culture and has now almost entirely passed away. Auntie Karen (as I called her until shamed out of it by the Cool Kids) was brilliant at getting the best out of mediocre us.
I miss her ever day I direct. Every so often I smile and think I will call her and recollect that there was breast cancer and so she is gone to glory. When I recall that Uncle Roddy, best natural bass I have ever heard and so funny, is also gone. What can I say? We had such larks.
This week I was working on some Greek, relearning, making sure I am sure for next term’s Marathon, and thought I should call Dr. Geier and ask what he made of “calmness.” I cannot. Socrates has left the lower levels and is seeing the stars.
Where is Uncle Charlie to tell me I am too liberal when I am? He served his nation, he served his church. Uncle Charlie and his beloved wife Auntie Jean served us all. He sees Jesus, she sees Jesus, thankfully. Here I am though.
When sorrow threatens to overwhelm me, I recall Father Michael, the last cavalier. On the night before he died, our family went to his bed and there he was, Oxford man, priest, decimated by stress induced Parkinson’s: martyr for his faith. We sang him home, knowing he could not respond. As we left, I turned and said, for no real reason, “Pray Father a blessing.” The unmoving man, to be gone in a few hours, rolled over (I swear to the Almighty) and with hands that had been claw like formed a blessing and making the sign of cross in the air, he said: “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
And yet some nights I could once again use a blessing and the last cavalier has gone.
Three weeks ago I lost the Gandalf of our family: the wizard who made the impossible possible. Today was hard and I could have used his weekly call, but that is now impossible as Phillip E. Johnson is gone. We must bear their going hence. What choice is there?
There is young Jack whose story is not mine to tell. There is the Immortal Angela gone before she could graduate with the first Torrey Honors class. There are my Papaws, Nana, and Granny. There are too many to list and my fear is that someone will think this list is in order of importance or ranked or is anything more that what came to me today. There are missing friends, relatives, missing here: sometimes because it is still too difficult or is not as bad today, though it might be tomorrow.
This all very hard. Thank God for those who remain: Mom and Dad, Daniel, my adult children, Hope- The Fairest Flower in Christendom, friends, colleagues all over the world.
No Quarter from Pain, but Hope
All of this is quite horrible and I would not pretend for one moment it is not. Death is horrible. Death is an enemy, the severest mercy that God ever had to allow.
Yet without being one bit less sad, the very truth of the sorrow gives me hope. Death is not final. Death is dreadful, wholly horrid, now, but death is not the end. Death is the gateway from somewhat alive to full life, just not for me, not for us, not just yet.
Do not let anyone say that there is a quarter for pain, but let it be said, at least for me, that there is healing and hope.
Jesus is alive and Jesus is near. I cannot describe this other than to say that without any diminishing of the sorrow, all is well, fundamentally well. The value of thinking, being educated by mentors, parents, sages, and friends to the reality of the world before the trial. When we must bear their going hence, a Christian civilization, and thank God a Christian school, has given us the capacity to mourn and carry on: most of the time.
We mourn, but with hope. God knows I love hope.
After all, I can rejoice and mourn. I rejoice that all is well for Papaw, for Jack, for my friend’s mother. All is well and more than well. All is better for all those host of saints than it is for anyone of us now alive. They are more alive, better, wiser, and more beautifully themselves than any of us.
And we will meet, blessed hope. I am not trying to persuade anyone to have hope, though if it helps you: I have hope. Hope is real, hope is rational, hope will not disappoint us. Nothing good will ever be lost or forgotten.
As I go to work tomorrow, I will do so singing our school song, at least under my breath:
O host of saints, illumine this the halls of our Academy . . .
Rest In Peace saints and pray for us.