A couple of days ago I went through about an hour of weeping. A cry-fest, if you will. Now, those who know me are not startled a bit by that revelation. My tears reside just below the surface, not waiting, but anticipating the next chance they have to escape. It was said of St. Francis that he had the gift of tears. I guess that makes him and I some kind of kin.
This, however, was not my normal get teary at a moment of joy or lament. It was a level up from that. It was more related to convulsing or even heaving. To make it even stranger, I was alone sitting in my living room, really not looking for a reason to cry.
Here's what happened. I'm schedule to perform a wedding next month in Denver (perform? What a weird way to describe officiating a wedding - ok, just noticed that officiating is just as weird) for a near daughter of mine, Jamie Helwick. Jamie is one of the dearest hearted people I’ve ever been privildged to know. While preparing for the ceremony…for my “performance” I was looking through prior ceremonies that I’ve led. These files are on my computer where I keep all of the info I have accumulated for weddings in a file entitled, Marry/Bury. Yep, Weddings AND Funerals. On a whimsical move I meandered to the Bury side of the file and began looking at memorials that I had officiated down through the years. I began to stroll through the dear friends and family of mine that of died. I started by reading the eulogy I wrote for Jeanie Cross. Then I moved on to Punky and Andy (one of the closest friends I’ve ever had and a son in the faith) and finally my Mom and Dad. By the time I read my mom's eulogy I was inconsolable. It was as if some fragile glass between me and a hidden storehouse of emotions had been shattered. It was not as if I hadn't reconciled the losses or conceded that I wouldn't see them all again. It really wasn't even sadness. I do deeply miss each one of them, but this was more like a resolve of gratitude from the joy and privilege of traveling with them.
In a way, life's journey and death are like a beautiful river. When observing a river, part of the loveliness is found in its turbulence, the sheer movement. It is mesmerizing, very similar, at least for me, to watching breakers collide with the beach at the ocean. There is something inside most people that feels like they can just sit and never weary of watching. It is almost like some ancient enchantment or spell cast on them. If a river becomes static it would cease being what it was supposed to be, in a sense, it would lose its innate beauty, it would lose its enchanting powers.
If you were to visit my city in the spring, you would be able to observe the impressive Spokane River in its most breathtaking season. I have often commented that if the river rushed this forcefully year round, it would be a national treasure. People travel from all over to see it. The problem is, if you come in late summer you will not find anyone looking at it at all. Because it is mountain fed, it is reduced to a trickle. Its source has dried up. The turbulence, the white water over protruding boulders, the brilliance is gone. That is the way life and death is. If we try to capture it, we reduce it to something it was never supposed to be.
In reading a journal (The Antler's Journal) this last week I came across this elegant line by John Donne, the poet. He wrote that when a person dies, “…one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language.” I'm not saying that the death of people I love has ever been easy. It may be one of life’s most severe challenges. But it does have a beauty and gratitude couched within the complexity and loss.
Below is a short poem (or something – I’m not sure if it would be considered poetry or not) that I wrote a few years ago regarding death.
Death: A Confused Friend
A confused friend you are...
You are cold and separate,
yet bold and inviting
I've never wanted you as a friend, we are an uneasy couple.
You come both with tears and reuniting,
You come creating distance and promise,
You come with both sting and freedom.
A confused friend you are.