Wednesday, March 6, 2019


The sky is the colour of ashes—
       White and grey;
The eaves drip icicle tears
       falling away

My life is filled with ashes,
       my mood is fey;
Death upon death finds my heart
       falling away

Across my forehead a cross
      —charcoal dust—
Reminds me that my frame
       will soon rust

Over the shadow of death
       a Cross
Reminds me that life
       can flame from loss

The kernel of wheat
       must die,
Roots of the tree lie buried far
       from the sky

Are these ashen flakes
       the soil
Not of death alone, but of
       figs and oil?

Are these ashes the fertile
       land, unseen,
Until I have God's eyes
       to see the green?

Is this ashy, narrow place
       a birth canal?
Is this dark smothering earth
       life somehow?

Does the thriving tree begin
       as a cross,
Planted in ashes, in death,
       in loss?

From that hollow hole
       comes Tov—
Roots mingled with ashes, whose
       fruit is love

From the hollow grave
       rises Love—
Preparing Earth, through us, for
       the Kingdom above.


Photo by Tobias Stonjeck on Unsplash

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Here's to the Firelight

“Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.

The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of Storm.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Snow Storm


We watched the first red blaze appear, 
Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam 
On whitewashed wall and sagging beam, 
Until the old, rude-furnished room 
Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom; 
While radiant with a mimic flame 
Outside the sparkling drift became, 
And through the bare-boughed lilac-tree 

Our own warm hearth seemed blazing free. 
— John Greenleaf Whittier, Snow-Bound

It is snowing down in big flakes from the street lamp circles tonight. There is the hush that comes with it. Kept within my cabin by the drifting snow, there is no radiant fireplace—no flickering flames to 'drive away dark spirits'. The dark spirits of loneliness crowd into  my little house and it feels like all friends are shut out, indeed. There is still a cosy "privacy of Storm" feeling, but whenever I think of Whittier, there is a bittersweet ache. You see, Whittier reminds me of you, my friend.

My copy of Snow-Bound is in a slim green book. A book that used to be yours. A book with your mother's handwriting in the front, inscribed with the year I last saw you. How can six years go so quickly and feel so eternal? So much has changed in those years—especially in my family. Too much has stayed the same—especially in my bad habits. Six years ago last week, I flew to Alaska to see you. I was worried for you. When I finally found you, waiting in your truck, my worry increased. The lack of sleep from many flights wasn't helping, but even so, my panic mode rightly kicked on. Something was desperately wrong with the friend I once knew. He was gone. . . Gone away, leaving someone else in his stead, someone I didn't know.

What I didn't expect was that I wouldn't see you again after our initial time together. You dropped me off with your friends and left me. Though they graciously looked after me that day and the next, dropping me off at the airport in good time, it wasn't strangers I had come to visit. Yet it was only strangers whom I found. You were a stranger to me—not letting me hug you, not making eye-contact with me, not making sense, not feeling safe. You simply left me.

What I didn't expect was to have you cut me off after that visit. You made sure I got home okay, but from that time on you didn't call and you didn't respond to my letters. It would be years before I found out that you never even opened my letters after that point. All because I wasn't someone else. Being myself—your friend—wasn't enough. I wasn't enough. I sat at the airport that February, tears running down my face, feeling horribly abandoned. . .because you had left me.

No one seemed to understand what a devastating loss it was to me, your friendship. So I swallowed my grief deep inside of me. What I didn't expect was to feel abandoned for all those years. You would cross my mind with great frequency, and I felt a wall. . .a barrier that I couldn't cross. And you wouldn't cross it. Or maybe you couldn't cross it either. I reached out my hand again and again—hoping—but yours never met it. You left me to reach out into the unfriendly darkness, alone.

What I didn't expect was how much I trusted your last promise to me. As long as she was safe and alive, I need not fear for your life. But I guess it got to be too much, living. And maybe you forgot that promise. All I know is, one September day, you left me—irrevocably. I didn't expect that the previous five plus years of ache would come spilling out in wave after wave after wave.

In one sense, you died years ago, but I didn't know how to grieve that living death. So, I tucked it away inside of me, because no one else cared, no one understood that aching, living loss. But in your physical death, people cared, they tried to help, they listened, they hugged me. . . At last they understood that I was experiencing a deep, deep loss. Wave after wave after wave of grief left me gasping.

What I didn't expect was to find this gem in abandonment: Abandonment (n.): from 1839 as "condition of being forsaken." In music, Italian abbandonatamente is the instruction to play so as to make the time subordinate to the feeling.

Not the feelings subordinate to the restrictions of time. . . No, time must surrender, be sub-ordinate to the feeling.

The first six weeks of grief were like a hurricane, one pounding wave after another, huge and crushing. Then I finally had a lovely day hiking with a friend, a day where I didn't cry—and I felt so disloyal to you. I visited your family a few weeks later—the time together was both healing and intensely painful. Remembering heals, but it leaves a bigger hole, a deeper ache. I felt like you had died all over again.

Then I'm not sure what happened. . . Maybe it was self-protection, but in December I was mostly numb. I wanted so badly to remember your visit ten years before, but it was like it had been erased from my mind—and not only mine, but everyone else's. There were no photos of our time together, few memories. . . I just wanted people to talk about you with me, but it was like you were gone, like you walked out of our memories. And again, it felt like no one understood why it mattered so much that we were friends, why it hurt like Hell that you were gone. It was still so raw that all I wanted to do was cover up my hurt, yet I wanted to share it, too. . .

What I didn't expect was the waves of loneliness. In my home. At my parents' house. At work. With dear friends who didn't understand. With friends who expected (even more so now) me to 'get better' or 'get over' my grief. I didn't expect this clawing, craving loneliness that nothing can fill. I didn't expect the emptiness, the feeling invisible, the feeling abandoned to drive me to distraction. But it has.

If numbness felt horrible—like fuzz between me and everyone and everything—distraction feels. . .not horrible. It even feels normal. Not exactly like nothing happened, but certainly like I'm pretending on the surface that nothing happened. I am silly at work, I laugh with friends, I flirt with the mailman, I try to reach out to others, I fill too many hours with noise—audible and visual. But in the distraction and in the intense loneliness I have been reckless, terrifying myself. Behind it all, I miss the grief (though it still washes up at odd hours). The steady waves of grief have been my connection. My companion. The distraction hasn't been all bad—it has pointed me outward; it has made me face some things internally; it helps other people feel more normal around me (I think)—I have too often felt like a "death's head" as Lewis described it in A Grief Observed. I don't want people to feel like they need to avoid me or to feel awkward around me because I am grieving. So, I've hidden my grief over your loss yet again. But I feel out of step from God, from others, and from you, because I stepped out of the flow of grief. 

For months I tried to maintain the feelings, tried to grieve well, to the point that I was exhausted. So, I took a break. . .but the break has ceased being restorative (like a sabbath day) and has morphed into laziness (like a month of Sundays). I keep wanting to go back to the grief, but I've changed and the grief has changed, and I can't go back. I can only go forward. . .but I don't know how. I feel lost about how to grieve now, about where I should be at this point. I can't compare my grief to others'—I just want to know for myself where I need to be. I don't know, though. I simply know that I feel lonely like I never have before. I feel abandoned. And that feeling does not yield to time. Six years later, I still grieve that you left me.

Six months later, I grieve that you abandoned life. I don't want to ignore the emotions or push them aside until I can 'deal with' them. I need to know these feelings—not to be ruled by them, but to know them—and I need time to be subordinate to my emotions. It can take as long as it needs to take to grieve. And the grief is allowed to change. There must not of necessity be colossal breakers all the time to prove that I care about you. I don't have to cry every day to prove my friendship and affection. There will always be a hole in my life without you. And there will always be so much of me that has been shaped by you that you cannot be wholly gone. You may have left me, but you also changed me. You shaped me in so many ways.

Distractions can be okay for short stints. By the kindness of God, this season of distraction has had its healing moments, in spite of its recklessness. Still, I want the upcoming season of Lent to be one where I learn to hold grief and gladness together. Not one or the other, but together. I want time to be in subjugation to the feelings. If I need to feel sad, even in front of other people, then I will. I don't have to be 'over' my grief by now. I will never be 'over' the grief that you are gone. There will always be the absence of you in my life. Even if your presence was quiet, and sometimes unnoticed, it was monumental to me. I miss you so very much, Aaron. I pray that the flame of your fire is radiantly mimicked upon the sparkling snow of my life.