Saturday, January 12, 2019

I close my eyes and go back in time. . .



Dear Aaron,

Sometimes I'm afraid of forgetting... Forgetting the sound of your voice (thank God for recordings). Forgetting the real you—afraid of making an idol out of who I think you were. I've been afraid of forgetting what it feels like to bleed; not that I enjoy the wound, but the pain means I'm not numb.

The last few weeks have been strange. I've been happy and hollow. Lonely and sad for other reasons. I've felt distance between myself and reality. I've been angry. I've been scared. And I've been running from what I want, though I don't know why. I felt like I didn't have permission to grieve. Like I was avoiding it until I was in a safe place. But to avoid grief means it takes time to reacquaint myself with that beast who, it turns out, is also my friend.

In some ways, I feel like I'm near you in the grief. And it comes whirling in when I am alone in my kitchen, listening uninterruptedly to Switchfoot. When I hear someone in a film give voice to what it feels like to lose a belovéd. The emptiness I've been holding at bay rushes in like a rising tide, sweeping over a floodgate. The words awaken something inside of me. . .

Here's to the twilight Here's to the memories These are my souvenirs My mental pictures of everything Here's to the late nights Here's to the firelight These are my souvenirs My souvenirs

How did they know? About twilight being the time when poetry sings the clearest? How did they know about the mental images of the Lodge? Of several of us piled on the couches by the wood stove, late into the night, listening to Dave read about the Old Squire? How did they know about the sharp, brief images of the van ride to Denver, your lanky self on the floor, drinking in all the conversations? Of the crisp picture of you on the trail at the Continental Divide? So many memories have faded, blurred, and been lost forever. . . But the snatches and moments I have still are like leaves of silver and gold.
I close my eyes and go back in time I can see you're smiling, you're so alive We were so young, we had no fear We were so young, we had no idea That life was just happening Life was just happening

This is the part that makes me weep. . . When I close my eyes and go back in time, I of course see you smiling. It hurts that you were so alive then but aren't now. But no. What am I saying? Of course you are so much more alive now. . . How can you be so alive and yet I feel so hollow?
Here's to your bright eyes Shining like fireflies These are my souvenirs The memory of a lifetime We were wide-eyed with everything Everything around us We were enlightened by everything Everything

Remember being both bright-eyed and wide-eyed? Remember the unquenchable thirst for good books? It was like Semester was a salt you could never get out of your mouth—giving savour to everything, and simultaneously bequeathing an unending thirst. And your firefly-eyes lit up at the prospect of those pages yet to be read and known and loved.
So I close my eyes and go back in time I can see you smiling, you're so alive I close my eyes and go back in time You were just a child then, and so was I We were so young, we had no fear We were so young, we had no idea That nothing lasts forever Nothing lasts forever Nothing lasts You and me together Were always now or never

Nothing lasts forever. . .even when it feels like it always will. Like we will always be friends, of course. What could possibly change enough to change that? And in some ways, that is true. Our Semester class will always be family, no matter how many years go by without communication. But some things change the core of who we are. Like Semester changed the core and trajectory of our lives, so does mental illness—so does death.

I wish I had known it was 'now or never' and visited you in Rhode Island. I wish I had made those memories with you that haunt the hollows in the woods and the corners of your parents' home. But when do we know in the moment that it is now or never? We don't, and we take for granted the life we are given. Can you hear me? I close my eyes and go back in time I can see you smiling, you're so alive I close my eyes and go back in time You were wide-eyed, you were wide-eyed
We were so young, we had no fear We were so young, we had just begun A song we knew, but we never sang It burned like fire inside our lungs And life was just happening
(and nothing lasts, nothing lasts forever) I wouldn't trade it for anything My souvenirs

Can you hear me when I talk to you? When I whisper through my tears, How could you? How could you do that to your family? How could you leave me? I think I'm really asking why the brokenness of the world is so particular, devouring my friend. How could something that happens to other people happen to you—and consequently to me? How could someone so alive die?

Remember being so young—facing your fears by driving nearly a thousand miles; by jumping on a table and reciting poetry? Remember the songs you sang to me in ink on envelopes? Remember the dreams and desires that burned inside like fire? I do. These are my souvenirs of my youth, and they include you. And you put me in a place to step from youth into depth—into both my own smallness and the largeness of the world. You gifted me dear memories. Sweet souvenirs. Deepest friends. Your very self.

Can you hear me? Because I want to sing thank you. . .with the rest of my life.

—Souvenirs by Jon and Tim Foreman

Thursday, December 27, 2018

I Don't Belong Here

"Here's the thing... Home or shelter I have not on this side of eternity..."

Ten years (and a few days) ago you wrote that line to me. It began a flurry of e-mails in which you planned a visit to Michigan and Indiana. And you came! And then on this day ten years ago, you drove away in the spring-like rain. How was I to know that the next time I saw you would be nearly five years later? You would be so changed. Ten years ago when you arrived, you gave me the biggest bear hug. Five years ago you wouldn't look me in the eye, wouldn't let me too near. A hug was out of the question. . .

What happened to the fellow who wrote, "I love you like my wood stove right now!"? The one you stood in front of at midnight, having awakened your dad for a conversation. . . Home and shelter you had, with a wood stove to boot. And yet, I don't think you ever really were at home in this world. I come back to this realisation again and again. No matter how much you studied the world, you weren't really comfortably at home here. No matter how much you loved your wood stove, or me, or your other friends and family, it wasn't enough to hold you in a place you didn't belong.

In a world full of bitter pain and bitter doubt
I was trying so hard to fit in, fit in
Until I found out

That I don't belong here
I don't belong here
I will carry a cross and a song where I don't belong. . .

. . . I'm gonna set sight and set sail for the Kingdom come
Kingdom come

So you did. Like Reepicheep, you set sail for the Kingdom: “While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.” I think Semester was like sailing East in the Dawn Treader, with like-minded friends. Then you flew east to the 'coracle' of your family. Then you swam hard in the Air Force. . . And I believe the last nearly six years were your desperate treading water, your nose above the surface, looking toward the Utter East. 

Do you remember telling me you would be safe as long as the person you loved was? Turns out that promises are harder to keep than to make. Do you remember writing that you would be the last leaf to fall? Turns out you were the first. . .

I'll be the last leaf to fall when
The season comes to leave
Myopia owns me
Loathe to fall
Loading up on the view
Knowing I'll lose my way
When my grip gives way

You shared these lines with me and I didn't see the poetry then. . .but I did later. I do now. I thought it needed to rhyme. I wanted it to end happy. I wanted you to be happy. But life in the intervening years has taught me to appreciate the sadness-laced lyrics, the poems that end with losing grip. Not out of despair, but because reality is bittersweet. Sometimes it is a better thing to be broken and then redeemed. I have learned that 'happy' as I think of it is a curse—emptiness, devoid of the weight of glory.

Blessed is the man who's lost it all
Happy is a yuppie word. . .
I'm looking for a bridge I can't burn down
I don't believe the emptiness
I'm looking for the Kingdom coming down

There it is again: the coming Kingdom. When you've lost it all—love, sanity, the desire for companionship, hope of healing, etc—you cling to the hope of the coming King and His Kingdom. And sometimes, holding on is too hard. You lose your way and your grip. You run ahead to the King's own country—Aslan's Utter East—before it's time to go. But the King is waiting. He knows how long we can hold out and hold on. You, who swore fealty to the King, you have been welcomed in to the Kingdom, to learn its language and its ways. I think your eyes had always seen it. . .or always almost seen something, like Orual almost seeing Psyche's palace; like Reepicheep and Aslan's country. There is something there...the Kingdom is coming. Until then, none of us really have any home or shelter this side of eternity.

Let us "set sight and set sail for the kingdom come" on earth as it is in heaven.
________


— "The Beautiful Letdown" by Jon Foreman
― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
"Birch Leaves" by Aaron Hennig
— "Happy is a Yuppie Word" by Jon Foreman

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

These Days Pass Me By

Ten years go by in a long hurry. . . I wish I could go back and relive this week in December a decade ago, knowing at least some of what I know now. Knowing what I knew up until September this year. It would be almost enough to make me hold on to those moments that I can't remember. Quite enough, really, though my Switchfoot knowledge would be much poorer. I think the urgency would be present, since I would know that our friendship would disappear in a very short time. 

Maybe I would have remembered to take photos at least once in those eight-ish days. Maybe I would have asked better questions about that girl you liked. Maybe I would have been present a little more. Maybe I would have listened differently, deeply, intently. Maybe I would have made sure I hugged you every day. Maybe I would have driven us to the park to wander in the woods. Maybe we would have read more together. Maybe I would have understood a little better all of those pauses when you were answering questions. Maybe I would remember if we went to Christmas Eve service with my grandma (and I would have hugged her extra, too).

But I can't go back ten years. 

"But. . ." That word is often the volta, the hope in a dark plot. This time it isn't. It is the thud back to earth after soaring on wishes soap-bubble-thin and as transparent.
Th[o]se days pass[ed] me by I dream with open eyes Nightmares haunt my days Visions blur my nights I'm so confused What's true or false What's fact or fiction after all

Is it Christmas time? I can't tell. Am I happy (a yuppy word, I know) since I'm not wasting my eyes with grief? Or have I just been too steadily busy to know the sorrow that leaks out through my eyes so often? Recently I told my nephew that the only dreams I remember when I wake up are the ones that scare me to tears. The nightmares where someone I care about dies. But I don't dream about you. I wake up to find that I'm living the nightmare. I can't reach you. Can't even find you. I can't remember chunks of time I spent with you. Days upon days at Semester. Even days you were at my house. Why can't I remember?!

I want you to be here. I want to hear you telling me: But you haven't lost me yet. . . I'll sing until my heart caves in No, you haven't lost me yet

I feel like I'm someone else when I am at my parents' home. I feel distant from my self. I feel mixed up, like a dependent early-twenty-something mixed together with an independent and interdependent thirty-something. It's hard to process my own thoughts, to separate my thoughts from the here and now of my family. Maybe that's good. But maybe I'm just putting my real thoughts and self on hold until I get home. But when I'm home I miss my family. Is it simply impossible to be fully present, fully myself, and fully appreciative of those I love in the very moment of being together? Is that why I can't remember large portions of times that I spent with you? Was it just too normal, too every day, that I forgot to pay attention? Did I forget that it mattered—all the life we lived together?

Life is short; I wanna live it well One life, one story to tell Life is short; I wanna live it well And You're the one I'm living for Awaken all my soul Every breath that you take is a miracle Life is short; I wanna live it well, yeah

That miracle-breath I take for granted (until I can't suck another in and I choke on fear), it is sweet. Life is short, I wanna live it well. And here is how:

Instructions for living a life: 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it.
—Mary Oliver

So I'm telling. . . That the sunset over the farm fields was crimson-orange tonight. That wiggly kiddos with high-pitched squeals might annoy you while you're trying to do something...but you'd give anything to keep them little and trusting and putting their cheek up against yours. That slow-to-speak, blond-haired, elven-friends don't grow on trees—pay attention, visit them, listen, be astonished.

_______

"Yet" Written By Tim Foreman & Jon Foreman
"Live it Well" Written By Tim Foreman & Jon Foreman


Thursday, December 13, 2018

This Skin and Bones is a Rental





















Pondering on a Switchfoot song with you in mind. . .
(If that were a poem title, it would have been penned by Wordsworth)

This air feels strange to me
Feeling like a tragedy
I take a deep breath and close my eyes
One last time

Do I even need to say my thoughts here? These lines seem to describe so much of your life, not just the last six years. Did these lines go through your mind before you closed your eyes that final time? I can't know. Do you have any idea how hard it is that we don't get to know what you were thinking?

Storms on the wasteland
Dark clouds on the plains again
We were born into the fight

But I'm not sentimental
This skin and bones is a rental
And no one makes it out alive . . .

The first time I listened to this song in all its newness in sound and lyric, I choked. I choked on this line. This fallen body is a rental, a shadow of our real bodies to come. Sometimes we get stuck in the Wasteland, but we can't forget that we were born into the fight. We might not have caused the fight, the struggle, the dark, consuming clouds. . .but we have both been through them. In some ways, I think we both contributed to one another's sorrow, though it was not intentional at the disparate times it happened.

Until I die I'll singe these songs 
on the shores of Babylon 
still looking for a home 
in a world where I belong

Where the weak are finally strong
Where the righteous right the wrongs
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong
A world where I belong

This is another set of lines that seem to sum up years. . . So often it seemed like you were looking for a home, a world where you belonged. Where you fit. This world didn't seem to be the right shape for you in many ways. But I know that you fit in and are fit for the Kingdom.

This body's not my home
This world is not my own
But I still can hear the sound
Of my heart beating out

This flimsy earth body is not our Home—Home is the Kingdom. And the King will clothe us in the wedding garments of the Kingdom when we arrive. We? No. . . I only mean myself. You are already clothed in the real body of the Kingdom. And, oh! How I wish I could hear your heart beating out its tattoo as I am enfolded in your hug. 

And on that final day I die
I want to hold my head up high
I want to tell you that I tried
To live it like a song

I know you did. I know you tried. You lived it like a song, my friend.

And when I reach the other side
I want to look you in the eye
And know that I've arrived
In a world where I belong

You got to go first. . . It's not right, you know. You're younger. I should be teaching you the way of the Kingdom, but it will be you teaching me. Even though I can't look you in the eyes yet, I know that you have arrived. You belong. 


______

"Where I Belong" by Jon Foreman / Michael Elizondo / Tim Foreman

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

My world is a lie that's come true



"The presence of [your] absence is everywhere." 

—Edna St Vincent Millay


Is it irony that the first big holiday without you is Thanksgiving? The season of gratitude feels hollow. After all, I can give thanks for things, but they will all disintegrate at some point. I can give thanks for other people...people that I know now because of you. But underneath the gratitude there is the painful knowledge that every person for whom I can and do give thanks will one day die. At some point, my heart will bleed like this again for someone else. And someone else. Your mom tried to tell me that it was like adding new rooms in my heart...and it is, but all I can see is that it will drain my heart dry of blood to lose these souls some day. Lord have mercy, may it not be soon!

This visit was far harder than I anticipated. I felt your absence so strongly, as if the emptiness were a sort of presence itself. Having never visited you in your home, on my first visit it didn't seem too odd not to have you in the house... Over Thanksgiving I kept feeling like you should walk around the corner, be sitting at the fourth side of the game table, playing the other colour in Settlers of Catan.

The worst moment came when I went ambling through the woods with your persevering parents. There was a stream with a rock and trees in a nook by the bank. I instinctively knew that it was a place that should have had memories made in it. Memories made by us in some other year. We would have packed biscuits and a thermos of tea, our favourite poetry books, and perhaps your walking stick. We would have tromped through the leaves to plant ourselves in golden autumn light, reading aloud to one another until we ran out of pages or daylight. We would have scampered home under the bare boughs sprinkled with stars. I felt the loss of this unmade memory so strongly that I was almost sick. It felt so like a place you would have visited that the unmade memory seemed more real than other memories I carry with me.


When I returned home a few days later, I discovered these lines that may as well have been written about that unmade—alas! never to 
be made—memory:

Where is the sun?
Feel like a ghost this time
Where have you gone?
I need your breath in my lungs tonight 

I'm holding on to You
My world is wrong
My world is a lie that's come true
And I fall in love with the ones that run me through
When all along, all I need is You


My world is wrong—because you aren't in it. My world is a lie that's come true. Lies whispered you away. The not-quite-six-feet of space you used to fill is achingly, noticeably empty. Those unmade memories will stay unmade. There is no hope that you will 'get better'—whatever I hoped that would mean. There's no going back to my twenty-three-ish-year-old self and urging her to go visit you. The ghosts of unmade memories haunted me along my every step at Fort Barton tower, among the trees by the river, and beside your woodstove. They taunted me as I looked through your bookshelves and saw your handwriting on the bathroom mirror. There was all the evidence of you, but no presence. Everything was all wrong and I could only think, Where have you gone? You should have been right there, right there with us—laughing, capering, drinking in the cold Beauty.

But somewhere in the intervening years—years that froze our friendship (in my memory) in its happier days—something changed. You changed. You became a living ghost; where had you gone, my friend? You became the living epitome of these lines:

All of my days are spent
Within this skin
Within this cage that I'm in 

Nowhere feels safe to me
Nowhere feels home
Even in crowds I'm alone


Tonight my eyes are red. Red from lack of sleep. Red from a profusion of salt-laced liquid streaming out.

What are you waiting for,
The day is gone?
I said I'm waiting for dawn

What are you aiming for
Out here alone?
I said I'm aiming for home

Home. In my vernacular that word applies to a little terracotta brick house in the Midwest and the people in it. It refers to the lodge in Pagosa, to the cloisters in Oxford, to the Mountain, to my cabin, to my friends. But now, more than ever, home means the Kingdom. The place I am longing for—and have been longing for all of my life; though I have never yet been there. You can long for home even if you've never been there. It is a remembering forward that I feel for the Kingdom. But did I say I had not been? No, but inhabiting the Kingdom is a well-loved part of home that I do remember—you. And so I long to go Home. I long for the perpetually bleeding wound to be healed. I long for the hopes that have died and died and died to resurrect into their true, redeemed, glorious selves.
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing—to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from—my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” 


― C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

________


—Switchfoot, Sing it Out

—Switchfoot, Red Eyes


Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Scars Deep in Your Heart



Wednesday
Tonight I made corn salsa with cilantro and lime, heated raw tortillas and spread them with homemade salsa verde, and added savoury pronghorn with jalapenos and cheese. The flavours were fresh, alive on my tongue. Thus I shared a meal with a friend. Over tea, however, we shared tales and tears. My tears were flavoured with sorrow and fear—that fear of forgetting. Fear of trying so hard to be okay that I lose any semblance of who I am.

After two or three weeks of not entering fully, not encountering grief the way I had been, I put the kleenex box back on the windowsill. I wore colour—rather than black and grey—for the first time in over two months. And I felt like a traitor. Disloyal to my grief, and ultimately, disloyal to Aaron. Sometimes I fear that I am forgetting, and sometimes I fear that this bleeding wound will never heal. I simultaneously hope it never does and long for the blood to clot, the scar to form.

These are the scars
deep in your heart
This is the place you were born
This is the hole
where most of your soul
comes ripping out
From the places you've been torn
And it is always yours
But I am always yours

The shape of these words has become so familiar to my ears that they are often background noise at work. But when I stop to listen to them, they still make me ache. It is as if the scar forms from the inside out; deep in my heart the blood is either being staunched or it is left to pour out.

Though I have been living on the surface for much of the last few weeks, I wonder if it is because the grief is going deeper in and I don't want to follow it. I want to be distracted. I want to be shallow—it's easier, it doesn't hurt so much. Yet it isn't really healing—and it could end up hurting other people. But even more, it feels like forgetting. And forgetting tastes like fear rather than life.

_______

Saturday

I moved the kleenex box back to my bed from the windowsill. I'm not expecting a sudden influx of tears, but one never does expect the tears. They come when they want. . .and sometimes they dry up, even when you feel like you need or want to cry them.

Today I'm wondering what it looks like to move deeper into grief. My initial need to internalise and then verbalise is still latent, but there has been a shift. Now I feel like I'm focussed on myself, rather than on remembering everything I possibly can about Aaron. Partly because I can't live in the past, but partly because remembering hurts. Remembering reminds me of how wrapped up in myself I was—too wrapped up to see that my friend needed more than an ordinary amount of help; to see that he was reaching out to me specifically in those first few years.

My understanding of 'normal' friendship was formed from my Semester friends. They set the bar severely high for everyone else. When we all began to be beacons of beauty, truth, and goodness in our own locales, it was hard to continue investing such devoted time to long-distance friends. Yet many of us did so for years. I felt the loss keenly when school, work, marriage, or children diminished the time we had once devoted to one another. I know the changes and the growth in our own communities and families had to happen—that is healthy and good. But the 'creeping separateness' deserved to be grieved.

With Aaron, the separation was gradual at first, then terribly abrupt near the end of his time in the Air Force. Maybe I blame the AF more than I should, but they did not help my friend while he was in their care. Though, to their credit, they did serve him well after his discharge. There is also regret when I think too much about Aaron's AF years. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what. I have no idea what I really could have done, but I still wish I had done something.

Then there is the regret when I think about the five-ish years between the time I last saw Aaron and when he ended his life. I wish I had visited him when I could have—before I ever moved to Colorado. I wish I had called sometime in those last five years, even when I wasn't sure if he would talk to me. Maybe he wouldn't have, but I wish I had tried to show him how much he mattered. And perhaps more than anything, I wish I had said 'Thank you' when I realised how much Aaron had quietly given me. I had the window of about one year when I had that chance...and I didn't take it.

When I remember, the pain comes spilling over in salty brine. And it is good to care, but it hurts.
If it doesn't break your heart, it isn't love

Now if it doesn't break your heart it's not enough
It's when you're breaking down with your insides coming out
It's when you find out what your heart is made up of

Maybe I'm tired of my insides coming out, of my soul dripping out of the places I've been torn. But I pray for the Spirit to stand me on my feet, to help me to step into the ache. Because the distractions I've chased make me less human. I begin to be inhumane toward others. . .or I fear reaching out to others, because to reach out means to care. To care means to give another person the power to hurt me; because they, too, will go away and leave me with another rend in my heart. I don't have enough blood to sustain the loss over and over.


But I will go recklessly on, loving and being loved. Because what if I didn't? What value would there be to life? God made us to be loved and to learn to love. It isn't the love that hurts, it is the deep, intolerable scar of the Fall that makes love painful, because now there is loss. Now there is total separation in some cases. Recently it has come to me what a brilliant image Lewis paints of the Fall with Ransom's bleeding heel in That Hideous Strength. He is wounded with an interminable (on this planet) injury which bleeds slowly and continuously—like the Fall pierces us with the interminable injury of sin, a wound that cannot be staunched this side of full redemption.

Sometimes, in an effort to get out of myself, I try to give to too many people. I try to love from my own flesh, my own 'strength'—every time I have tried this (innumerable times), I fail and relationships detonate. Rather, I am learning to love others in and from my weakness, because in my weakness I see that I can only do anything through the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Just because someone wants or even needs a friend, doesn't mean I have to be, or should be, that friend for them.


With Aaron, I tried to be a loyal friend, and I should have. We had a solid groundwork of life-together friendship. Right now I find I need to be a loyal friend to those with whom I have a friendship groundwork already laid. In this season, to reach out (beyond common courtesy) to new friends is leaving me mentally on the surface when I need to dig deep. . .deep into the Word; deep into the things I have been learning; deep into my wounded heart. Not to enlarge the hole, but to follow it down to where the scar is beginning to form. . .deep in my heart.

___________


— "Always" by Jon Foreman

"Yet" by Jon Foreman and Tim Foreman

Photo: "Farewell, Goodbye" Wolf Creek Pass Overlook, Colorado (2007)

Friday, October 26, 2018

Seasons: Limbs and Branches


























September found our leaves light green,
like the early leaves of balmy spring,
but the nip in the air mixed the colours
into gold and rust, an autumnal dream
that shone three months on us

January came with blustery wind
and the letters flew between us, friend;
like flakes of snow on our branches bare
were those white word-pages we would send
for weeks and months on end

December blew you into my home,
like a leaf adrift, liked a half-read poem,
full of moods: mirth and sadness;
full of restless blood that made you roam,
flowing from your broken heart

May in two years more brought word,
a banishment of sorts had occurred
for us both, mine short, yours long—
Alas! You became a flightless bird
Giving your wings away to me

November dawned in glittering gold,
in a gift and a letter, for lo and behold!
I was to fly to our beloved England,
to drink it in, gain knowledge to hold
in my hand like a gift. . .from you

April saw my return from abroad,
changed, humbled, full, and awed
my leaves flourishing, blossoming,
but yours, I soon saw, were flawed,
as if frost or hail had visited

February two years down the road
had seen hard times for us both
again, while my roots were strong,
you seemed to be withering slow
and steady from within

July brought news of ill health
for your mind, once a wealth
of jolly poems, songs, and dreams,
now afraid. Your confused self
sought safe home-hermitage

January many a year I strove
to send word that you were loved,
but your blighted tree withdrew
into your world of books and stove,
while mine flourished and grew

September dawned on one black day,
your tree hewn, you went away
and left me all alone to grieve,
my flourishing seemed to decay
your once vibrant tree


________


Choice is the only thing we're given

For one to live, another dies
One road says hello, the other says goodbye. . .
Tonight, [friend], I'm gonna break your heart
Mine was broken from the start, broken from the start
— Jon Foreman, Broken from the Start


Photo: "Lonely Tree", taken at the Cliff Walk; Newport, Rhode Island (2018)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

When it Burns Like Third Degree

Grief is simply love with nowhere to go.


Nowhere to go. . .That feeling when you come home from work and can't decide if you are hungry or not. When you can't settle. When you feel all of the loose ends unravelling. I have wandered aimlessly through the house, feeling both lost and as if I had lost something too dear to name. 

One moment I will laugh over a line in a letter, the next I will break my heart over the ache of the emptiness. Over the loss with no chance to reconcile this side of the veil. It is love wanting to reach the one loved, but that one resides in a place I've never known. . .A place I've longed for all of my life. But how does love cross the chasm of death? 

Death can't stop how life works; not truly. But it sure as Hell seems like death is winning; like death has the upper hand over life. Death stepped in and stopped the end goal of my love: my friend himself. And now that love wants to run on, over Sunset Hill, across the water, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, up to the top of the golden mallorn tree, where my elven-friend must dwell under the stars. But though I've seen many glorious golden trees with milk-white stems, and though I've stood beneath a silver shower of starlight, my love seems to whirl away on the crisp breeze, as lost as I am.

In the lostness comes the haunting fear. The fear that I will forget. That I will go on with life and not remember the reason why my life took a turn for the better. I am afraid that I will forget to say 'thank you' through my life itself. I want my friend, quiet though he was much of the time, not to be overlooked or forgotten. And I am so afraid to let go of the ache, of the tears. I am afraid of this gaping wound healing over. . .

When your fear is currency
And you feel that urgency
You want peace but there's war in your head
Maybe that's where life is born
When our façades are torn
Pain gives birth to the promise ahead

Out of this pain has been birthed the most urgent desire to reach the Kingdom. The promise of what lies ahead. Reuniting in an unfallen, unbroken place, where the bell of doom has been unrung and the deplorable word—mine!—has never been uttered. I long for that place. So. Much. But I love this life, too. Today I asserted that wondrous line, "Dear old world, you are beautiful, and I am glad to be alive in you." And I am. Glad for the Beauty and the grandeur, for the friendships and the love spilling over. . .And I am desolate, too. Both together, rolled up in this dichotomy I don't even understand. I ache when I am alone and let myself remember. Yet, oh, I want to remember!

If you could only let your guard down
If you could learn to trust me somehow
I swear, that I won't let you go
If you could only let go your doubts
If you could just believe in me now
I swear, that I won't let you go

When I first let these words run over me, I cried. Oh friend, I wish you could have let your guard down with me, with your family, with some other friends. . .And I wish I had been worthy of that, and of your trust and friendship, too. I will always carry you in the fabric of who I am. So in a way, I can't forget. I can't love anyone else with the kind of love I have for you, my fair elven-friend. And I can only pray that this love that has nowhere to go in this life will be poured forth, refined and purified, into the man I will one day meet again in the realised Kingdom. 

There ain't no darkness strong enough 
that could tear you out from my heart

There ain't no strength that's strong enough 
that could tear this love apart


Never gonna let you go




______

"I Won't Let You Go" by Switchfoot
Songwriters: Jonathan Mark Foreman / Timothy David Foreman

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Created for a Place I've Never Known



"I've got my memories
Always inside of me
But I can't go back
Back to how it was...
...Created for a place 
I've never known"

Memories—I have those, too. But they are intangible. A stack of letters, smooth under my fingers, they are tangible. They hold your ruminations, a hundred quotations, illustrations, and aspirations. But letters cannot give me a bear hug. So I have your blue plaid flannel shirt wrapped around me. But where are your strong arms, my friend?

I can't wander back to the Lodge and find you there. Can't find you perched atop a woodpile at my parents' house...or at your parents' house, either. Believe me, I've looked. I've seen your bookshelf, the beautiful things you crafted, your writing desk, the footprints you left in the closet, your handwriting on the mirror. But you have gone on without me—beyond the veil to a place I've never known. A place I yearn for in the beautiful, aching moments. You've run ahead to a place I long for more earnestly now than I ever have.

Looking back over your letters has become something of a yearly tradition around our almost-shared birthdays. Ever since the day I first met you, I have known you were different than other people. Sometimes that difference was frustrating, as I just wanted an answer about your favourite food or your week's adventures. But more often, your different-ness was perceptive and inspiring. You once sent me a heart-full poem, asking for my advice, only to have me mutilate it—blind until years later to the depth of sorrow and beauty commingled therein.

I should have known that the soul of an artisan-poet, so well-versed in the language and habits of the King's world, wasn't long for this fragmented, still-fallen one. Perhaps part of your restless wanderlust stemmed from never quite feeling like you belonged here. There seemed no corner of the earth that could quite be your very own, my elven-friend. So you chose to step out of this world to find the place you had never known, but longed for all your life.

"This is home
Now I'm finally where I belong
Where I Belong
Yeah, this is home
I've been searching for a place of my own
Now I've found it
Maybe this is home

Like Jewel says in The Last Battle, 'I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.' But there you are; you've gone further up and further in, without me. I envy you. So. Much. And I look forward to the day when I will get into Narnia and you can teach me the ways and words of the Kingdom. Who knows how long that will be, life is too dear to leave it without Aslan deliberately calling me away. But when He does—O friend!—come meet me. Show me sylvan glades where the dryads play. Teach me all the colours I haven't seen before. Tutor me in the names of the trees and the contours of the Kingdom. And help my trembling, tied tongue to learn to lisp the language of Heaven, until it becomes familiar to taste the words.

You have always shown me the world through different eyes. You have shown me beauty and wonder—ever my guide into Faerie Land. You have asked the questions I didn't even think to question. You have valiantly lived, trying to reconcile confusion and the constant hurricane of thoughts and fears. 

"And now after all my searching
After all my questions
I'm gonna call it home
I've got a brand new mindset
I can finally see the sunset
I'm gonna call it home"

Do you remember the time that you told me that your family went to the beach on or around Christmas, and that you saw a wall of water rising up and the sun behind it? Those lines from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  sounded so naturally like something that would actually happen to you. And now you're in Aslan's own Country, the Utter East. Perhaps you sailed so far West from the Grey Havens as to arrive in the East. But you left me here without you, friend. In many ways, you left me for another world years ago. I always hoped you would find your way back far enough to reach out your hand to me once again. But we can't go back to how it was. And maybe that is for the best. I don't know if I could have borne the changes in you since that last visit. They were already apparent then...and they hurt to see. But know that I never stopped loving you and being your friend, even from a distance.

Perhaps it is better that what I do remember is you running to ring the unringable church bell in Pagosa. You, sitting on the floor, reading The Silmarillion aloud to me. The vast amount of ham you could eat! 'Phoners' and enthusiastic letters. The artistry of your hands and the music you played. The enthusiasm you had for music and lyrics and poetry. 

You were hard for me to understand, my friend. But not hard to love. You were hard for me to know how to help in fits of depression. But it seemed to be a joy for you to help me—even when I didn't always know it was your hand reaching out to me. You visited me when I was lonely. You gave me one of the greatest adventures I've ever taken, and were an integral part of my other grand adventure. You gave me the gift of your friendship, even though it cost you dearly to be open to loving another living thing. When you withdrew that gift, I felt abandoned, betrayed, unwanted. But now I know it was not because you didn't care, you cared more than you knew how. A part of me ceased all those years ago, and now part of me has died with you, friend. There are things that will never heal this side of Aslan's Country.

Missing you hurts like Hell, Aaron. Because it is Hell that stole you from me, from your dear family, and from a world that needs to see through your eyes. 

'This is worse than Mordor!' said Sam. 'Much worse in a way. It comes home to you, as they say; because it is home and you remember it before it was all ruined.' I remember you before the enemy set about to ruin you, to try to take you. But though you have gone further up and in, while I am left in the Shadowlands, neither has the enemy succeeded. You are now safe forever from confusion and heartache. You get to know how fully loved you are. You belong. 

Your seed has fallen into the ground in order to bear much fruit. In so many ways, the Lord has already borne good fruit through you, my friend, but the harvest continues. I can't thank you enough for being you. I love you. So. Much.

"A truer, nobler, trustier heart 
never beat within a human breast" 
—Lord Byron





But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” 
C S Lewis, The Last Battle
___________

Song lyrics: This is Home by Switchfoot
Quotation 1: The Last Battle, by C S Lewis
Quotation 2: The Return of the the King, by J R R Tolkien